Collected Writings of J.A.A. Stockwin: The Politics and Political Environment of Japan

By J. A. A. Stockwin | Go to book overview

First published in Ian Neary (ed.), Leaders and Leadership in Japan Richmond, Japan Library, 1996


32

New Directions in Japanese Politics

We have swallowed the Socialists and we have them in our stomach. All that remains is for the gastric juices to digest them. 1

THESE REMARKS attributed to the former Prime Minister. Takeshita Noboru, suggest a cunning plot to restore the essence of LDP hegemony, which had been so rudely snatched away with the formation of the Hosokawa Government in August 1993. According to this hypothesis, the reform ambitions initiated by the Hosokawa coalition government (August 1993-April 1994) are close to foundering with the return of the LDP to power, in a coalition with the Socialists, at the end of June. Another way of putting the same thing is to say that Ozawa has been defeated by Takeshita: that the ambitious reformer who wanted to remake the system of politics has been defeated by the old-style politician who wishes to restore the status quo.

The principal purpose of this paper is to examine this view in the light of recent and earlier events. I shall argue that despite current appearances what has happened since August 1993 means that the old system cannot be put together again in anything like the same form as before. The genie has escaped, and cannot easily be returned to the inside of the bottle. Although the process of changing the system has proved (predictably) a rocky one, the system-for good or ill-is experiencing a period of substantial change, though the end result may well not satisfy many of the proponents of reform. In arguing thus, I am conscious of having some heavyweight opinion against me, as the prevailing opinion seems to be that political reform has stalled, or even, failed.

In order to come to grips with what has happened over the past year (1993-4), I want to go back into the 1980s, when Nakasone was in his own way trying to reform the way politics was conducted by setting up a range of commissions and think-tanks in order to shift policy in a range or areas including defence and education. Although he had a certain amount of success in pushing defence policy somewhat in the direction he wanted it to go, and although he was accorded a longer period as Prime Minister than any of his predecessors since 1972 and any of his successors, although he won the 1986

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