Speaking of democracy

Addressing the DPJ’s rejection of the nomination of Watanabe Hiroshi to be deputy governor of the Bank of Japan at a press conference Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka commented upon the internal dynamics of the DPJ. He said, “Although a majority of the DPJ’s investigatory subcommittee on joint personnel decisions approved the nomination, I want to say that there is no democracy within the party. This is truly a complicated and mysterious party.”

Yes, Mr. Machimura, chief cabinet secretary of the LDP-led coalition government and titular head of the LDP’s largest faction, is questioning the democratic bona fides of the DPJ.

How does one even begin describing how inappropriate it is for Mr. Machimura to comment upon the lack of democracy in the DPJ? One could start with last September’s LDP presidential election and go from there, but I’m not going to do that, because since when did political parties have to make internal decisions democratically?

No, Mr. Machimura’s comments are particularly galling because of the current government’s attitudes about democracy in the political system at large. In the same press conference, Mr. Machimura noted that the LDP and Komeito are considering revising the law governing the Bank of Japan, enabling HR decisions on the Bank’s leaders take precedence.

On Wednesday, the LDP-Komeito “investigatory committee concerning the way joint personnel decisions ought to be” held its first meeting to look into changing the BOJ law so that the bank’s succession is never again challenged by the HC.

This is typical of how the LDP has viewed DPJ control of the HC. If the DPJ can’t be made to shut up and do what the government tells it to do, then it and the HC should be circumvented and ignored. If the DPJ uses the powers accorded to the HC, then remove those powers bit by bit, all while claiming to be acting in the name of the national interest, to be putting country before party, to be desirous of compromise.

I hope the DPJ loudly opposes this move, not because of its immediate significance but because of its symbolic importance. The DPJ’s control of the HC is an important moment for Japanese democracy, certainly more important than the question of whether Mr. Shirakawa or Mr. Muto was named governor of the BOJ.

Democracy is a process by which those out of power can keep those in power honest and accountable. It may not always result in good policymaking, but when it works properly it enables the outs to challenge the sagacity, the morality, and the competence of the government over the course of making and executing policy.

With the DPJ in control of the HC, an opposition party is finally in a position to question the government and hold up policy when it feels that the government is lacking on one or all of the above-mentioned counts.

Ozawa Ichiro replied in this manner to Fukuda Yasuo, who criticized the DPJ for “misusing its power” (as if the LDP is the arbiter for the proper use of power). He said, “The government has a majority in only one of two houses. The government has not reflected sufficiently on the kind of situation that arose from last summer’s election.”

As Mr. Machimura’s and Mr. Fukuda’s comments and the governing parties’ actions show, the LDP and the Komeito haven’t made their peace with the conditions of Japan’s evolving democracy.

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