Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Cozying up to Japan’s opposition
Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party has a shot at grabbing power this year from the Liberal Democrats – ending more than five decades of almost unbroken rule – and many in the political and business establishment are wary.
Can the Democrats really govern? What will it mean if they really take power? While trying to answer these questions, one thing is clear to everyone: The Democrats can no longer be ignored.
Corporate executives, bureaucrats and foreign diplomats are cautiously reaching out to the 10-year-old Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which has vowed to reduce bureaucratic clout over policies and take a diplomatic stance more independent of ally Washington.
Some say the party, a mix of former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members, ex-socialists and younger conservatives, may craft policies friendlier to labour unions and consumers rather than Japan’s big corporations.
“It is only natural for us to change the way we treat the DPJ as chances grow for the DPJ to win and run the government,” said Mitsuo Ohashi, who is in charge of political affairs at Japan’s biggest business lobby, the Nippon Keidanren. “We will boost our dialogue with the DPJ.”
The lobby has been a big supporter of the LDP. When Ohashi spoke to me, he was careful not to give the impression that Nippon Keidanren was giving up on the LDP, noting that the group would keep ties with the Liberal Democrats at a time when the political system remains in flux.
In Kasumigaseki, the central Tokyo district where most of Japan’s government ministries are based, bureaucrats are also trying to deepen contacts with the DPJ — but again, very carefully.
Many of them are worried about the Democrats’ pledge to take power from “Kasumigaseki” by sending 100 lawmakers into government ministries. No one wants to comment on the record, but whenever I ask them what would happen if the Democrats run the government, one word many bureaucrats mention is “chaos”.
But they know the reality and see the need to reach out to DPJ lawmakers. Some are setting up informal study sessions with the Democrats. Higher-ranking officials are being sent from ministries to explain government policies to senior DPJ members.
At the same time, they are also well aware of the need to tread carefully so that networking with the Democrats doesn’t anger ruling party lawmakers and spark a backlash if the LDP makes a comeback, which happened after an anti-LDP coalition was ousted in 1994 after less than a year in power.
Analysts say the DPJ, which has a limited number of lawmakers with experience in governing, will face some hurdles even if it wins the election this year, and cooperation with bureaucrats and business executives will be necessary.
So would it be a successful shift in power that people want to see as Japan’s version of “change”? Or just chaos? Either way, many in the corridors of power are trying to position themselves to be ready for a possible DPJ-led government.