April fools?

Today, April 1, the Japanese people have received an April Fool’s Day gift in the form of a potentially temporary tax cut on gasoline and automobile purchases. There is, reports the media, chaos at the car dealerships and chaos at the petrol pumps. There is uncertainty regarding current road construction projects. And in a press conference Monday Prime Minister Fukuda apologized for the chaos resulting from the expiration of the temporary gas tax.

Mainichi is using the occasion to condemn both the LDP and the DPJ for their failure to act in the national interest.

The people, Mainichi argues, just want the parties to stop playing politics and compromise. What’s happening instead is mob rule: “On big themes like national security and the tax system that influence the circumstances of state and society, democratic public opinion is divided. If a political party uses the other side as a pretext for digging trenches and not leaving, only sterile debate will arise. This is not the modern politics of persuading the public; this is the shape of mob rule that incites the public.”

Both parties, the newspaper argues, are ultimately to blame for engaging in all-or-nothing politics, the DPJ for be unwilling to listen to alternatives to the immediate lifting of the temporary tax, the LDP for the behavior of the road tribe.

I don’t buy this argument. I am proud of how the DPJ has held its ground on this issue, although admittedly it was easier to take a stand knowing that nearly three-quarters of the public supported an end to the temporary tax. For once the DPJ found an issue that enabled it to oppose the government on principle and indicate a way forward for Japan. Mainichi is mistaken to assume that Japan’s national problems will be solved by half measures and compromises with the LDP’s old guard.

No one ever said that the birth of a new Japanese democracy was going to be easy or clean. The process is ugly. There is much stubbornness and opportunism. None of the urgent national problems are being solved. But then Japan’s broken political system is arguably urgent problem number one in that it has undermined efforts to fix everything else. Yes, the current dispute may resemble, in Mainichi‘s words, “a barroom argument,” but an argument — in public — in which the two leading parties are fighting over a matter of principle with real-world implications is a major improvement over what has come before. I’m also pleased that the road tribe has been open in its opposition to efforts by Mr. Fukuda to cooperate on road construction. Better that opposition be in the open and subject to public scrutiny.

In an ideal world, the media would be welcoming this development and encouraging it, instead of haranguing the parties for their failure to come to a gentlemen’s agreement to avoid “chaos.”

Hopefully one day April 1 will be remembered as the beginning of a new era in Japanese democracy, not the latest sign of Japan’s declining international influence.

One thought on “April fools?

  1. Japan Observer – Rather than translate konran (混乱) as \”chaos\” it would probably be more correct to translate the term as Ken Worsley\’s ultimate bugbear: \”confusion.\”For some reason, \”confusion\” is bad…I mean really bad…I mean like \”apologize to the people and wipe your glasses\” bad.Something to do a transgression of the Great Harmony between an education system rooted in Confucian learning and the relentless, mute logic of capital expeditures increasing productivity, I believe.


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