Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Reforming Japan

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Reforming Japan

Article excerpt

"Koizumi's Top-Down Leadership in the Anti-Terrorism Legislation: The Impact of Political Institutional Changes" by Tomohito Shinoda, in SAIS Review (Winter Spring 2003), 1619 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

When Japan finally acted during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, its contribution of$13 billion to help underwrite the war effort was widely derided as "too little, too late." But 10 years later, in response to 9/11, Japan moved swiftly to back U.S. reprisals against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, rapidly enacted antiterrorism legislation, and, under it, dispatched--for the first time since World War II--part of its armed forces on a military mission overseas, providing rear support for a U.S. deployment in the Indian Ocean. The different responses, explains Shinoda, a professor at the International University of Japan, show how much progress has been made in removing factional and bureaucratic shackles and strengthening the office of prime minister.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which controlled the Diet from 1955 to 1993, was divided into large factions. Faction leaders chose the party chief, who became prime minister, and they influenced his cabinet selections. And the cabinet was reshuffled almost every year, enhancing the power of the government bureaucracies. All this, notes Shinoda, made for a weak prime minister.

In 1994, however, a new government formed by eight opposition parties began altering Japan's political foundations. Under the old system, each legislative district had three to five seats in the Diet's lower house, which encouraged fierce factional fights among LDP candidates competing for the same bases of support. …

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