I have been inspired by Our Man in Abiko's effort to explain the DPJ victory. He is not generally known for sober analysis; but that is what makes it worth reading.
As I am not allowed yet to drink, I fear the observations below will not be as interesting. You will have to do the drinking yourself, first.
It should not have been a surprise to anyone that the DPJ won the August 30th Lower House election. By this summer, all the polls showed that the voters had simply no faith whatsoever in the too-long ruling LDP. The Japanese called them for what they were: out-of-touch, corrupt nincompoops.
Yes, the Japanese people are skeptical of the DPJ and they should be. But the vote finally reflected the values and opinions of the average Japanese, as gauged by myriad social and political surveys over the past 15 years. None of these polls ever showed an affinity to the LDP’s proto-nationalist, glorious history, military-security agenda. None showed any interest in foreign policy, changing the constitution, or strengthening any alliance with the U.S. And certainly no one wanted to go back to Tokugawa feudalism or Showa’s police state.
It is not that Japan has suddenly changed. It has not. Japan’s money politics and back-room wheeling and dealing is not over. For a while, however, a few ideals will guide the new policymakers. The desire to have the people’s will reflected in bureaucrat’s decisions is democracy in its purest form. It is difficult to attain and more difficult to maintain.
The record 54 women now in the Diet are no fluke or merely manipulative male politics. This election was an election on “women’s issues.” The focus was home, health, and family. This is how the Japanese people have identified their insecurities and defined security. National prestige and threat-based military power—the LDP’s measurements of security--fell flat with the voters. Japan is looking inward.
The Japanese people have long mistrusted, resisted, and even undermined the U.S. The failure to move Futenma, the wavering faith in America’s nuclear umbrella, and the demise of the U.S. auto industry are reflective of these feelings. Surveys show a positive albeit fast dropping confidence in the U.S. No matter who is in power in Japan, the U.S. is destined for a great deal of obstructionism on foreign policy and trade.
The DPJ is likely to focus it foreign policy on defusing regional tensions in Asia. They will not do it, however, through the misuse of history, threats of nuclear armament, or building any sort of security architecture. They plan to approach Asia at its most fundamental, essential emotive level. The DPJ will hopefully and finally make the appropriate apologies and compensation for Imperial Japan’s Pacific War. The DPJ will dial down its rhetoric with North Korea, untangle the Abductees issue from the Rightists’ agenda, and focus on denuclearization. And whatever the DPJ means about making the U.S.-Japan alliance “equal” it is foremost about taking on new responsibilities, not merely about shedding old ones.
The task Obama’s White House has with Japan is the same it has worldwide: rebuilding trust and confidence in America’s words and deeds. For now too many DPJ foreign policy bigwigs believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy and discount American security requests as self-serving. As Obama’s Japan team has found with the LDP, a lot of work needs to go into reassurance and confidence building. The DPJ’s supposed anti-globalization tack also reflects larger, global distrust of the uncertainties of international economic interdependence. Again, Japan is turning inward.
With the new DPJ government more work and creativity needs to go into defining what responsibilities Washington expects Tokyo to assume. It was disheartening earlier this month when well-known Alliance Managers brushed off declarations by visiting DPJ members that they were going to work to resolve the history issues. It was equally disconcerting that the Administration’s strongest public statement to the newly elected DPJ was a list of things Washington would not consider or negotiate. There is much to encourage among the DPJ’s aspirations; and to not do so will certainly undermine any alliance.
Maybe the real surprise in the election it is that official Washington has been so resistant and uncomfortable with change in Japan. The new Japanese government was met with reprimand and hesitancy. The U.S.-Japan Alliance is due in for some reexamination. Democracy is messy.