The recent elections for Japan's lower house of parliament may provide a test to reforms proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and a potential two-party system. During the election, however, party reforms and election manifestoes were the two pivotal issues that indicated the political direction and change in Japan.
The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was challenged for the first time by the newly revised Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Both parties vigorously pushed forward structural reforms within their parties before the election.
For the LDP, giving the party a more youthful profile is crucial. The appointment of 49-year-old Shinzo Abe as the party's secretary general signified such an effort. Besides, although the LDP had long required its lawmakers on the proportional representation list not to be older than 73, many seniors continued to take up the positions. Therefore, Koizumi's dissuading former prime ministers Kiichi Miyazawa, 84, and Yasuhiro Nakasone, 85, from the campaign, made his determination to carry out structural reforms appear more impressive to the public.
The DPJ, on the other hand, emerged as the main opposition by merging with the Liberal Party in September. A party that used to have internal discord, the DPJ picked up its momentum after the merger and increased its political influence. Internally, the party was consolidated and externally, it portrayed itself as a party capable of governing a country.
The DPJ nominated more candidates between 30 and 40 years of age for the elections, showing its sincerity to carry out party reforms. It also released a list of Cabinet candidates in the event that it was in a position to launch a Cabinet after the elec-tion. Among those on the list was Nagano Governor Yasuo Tanaka, who was marked down to be a minister for the decentralization of local autonomy.
The highlight of this election was each party's election manifesto. The DPJ put forward concrete policies and the LDP responded with a reform declaration. An opinion poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun pointed out that voters in this election paid more attention to each party's manifesto (49 percent) than candidates (40 percent). All of a sudden, "manifesto" became such a buzzword that even private enterprises have begun to use it to refer to their business reforms.
Criticizing problems that it said had derived from the LDP's half-century dominance in the lower house, the DPJ advocated lessening the bureaucrat-led politics as well as bringing about an economic revival, tax transparency and projects to deal with such problems as an aging society. Concrete measures targeting each issue are detailed in its manifesto. The party's policies may have not imposed a dramatic impact on small constituencies, yet it harvested in the seats of national constituency.
The Koizumi-led LDP stressed the importance of continuing the current reforms and offered different policies on each issue outlined by the DPJ. Such debate is truly essential to democratic politics that emphasizes participation as well as the contract between political parties and people.
Despite its growing interest in the international security affairs, Japan, faced with financial difficulties and economic recession, has to first deal with its political and economic structure and system. Koizumi's reform declaration was an attempt to address these problems.
The rising Japanese nationalism also resorted to the rebirth of of the nation rather than the appeals to exclude outsiders or negative campaigning. The party reforms and election manifestoes mark the real beginning of reform in Japan and make a good example for Taiwan.
Philip Yang is a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Jennie Shih