In part two, posted here, the survey found that approximately 75% of respondents answered in the negative to the question “do you think the government takes into consideration its citizens’ opinions and thoughts.” The answers to the subsequent question — “how do you think the government could most take into consideration its citizens’ opinions and thoughts” — show, however, that there is little consensus on how to change this state of affairs.
These questions get to the crux of Japan’s political problem. As I argued in this post, genuine political change will not come about as a result of a new series of top-down grand reforms, a twenty-first century sequel of the Meiji Restoration. Japanese politics will change only if it ceases to be a spectator sport, in which the governing class talks amongst itself while the Japanese people look on, occasionally excited, occasionally agitated, but mostly bored. The tantalizing promise of Koizumi was that he might break the cycle by getting the Japanese people to take an active interest in how their country is governed; that promise was, of course, unrealized.
But the problem remains. Popular discontent with political parties and politicians of all stripes remains high, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions from Sunday’s local election results. I strongly doubt whether any political party will be able to channel that discontent into a popular movement capable of taking power (in a manner similar to Hosokawa Morihiro’s path to power in 1993). More than a decade later, the Japanese public seems more cynical, more worn out, and less likely to embrace a reformist alternative to the LDP uncritically.
In other words, the Japanese people will have to take power themselves, by voicing their discontent through protest votes (and protests), by running for office themselves or supporting other citizen candidates, and by demanding openness and accountability from governments local, prefectural, and national. At every turn Japan’s governing elite need to be reminded that their mandate comes from the Japanese people and that they must ultimately be accountable to the Japanese people. Democratic governance requires a constant conversation between government and governed; it’s time the Japanese people took their proper place in that conversation.