Political system damaged by DPJ's aversion to bureaucracy
The first thing the Democratic Party of Japan should do before the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election is review its past three years and two months in power. Can the DPJ do serious soul-searching on the plethora of issues it has mishandled and reflect the lessons learned in its campaign pledges for the upcoming election?
The public approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was as high as 75 percent when it was inaugurated after the 2009 lower house election. Public approval of the current administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has declined to just 24 percent, showing how the public's initial high expectations of the DPJ were dashed after the change of government.
Under the DPJ government, the nation's politics have continued to suffer from confusion and stagnation, and this is not just because the Diet is divided. It is mostly because the party is incapable of managing the government.
This was symbolized by the DPJ's failed manifesto for the last general election. After reviewing its pledges, the party concluded that only 53 of them--including making tuition at public high schools free--had been implemented during its tenure. The figure represents only about 30 percent of the 170 original promises.
The DPJ has many things to reflect on. Among its blunders, it was extremely optimistic to believe it could secure 16.8 trillion yen a year just through tweaking spending plans. It also suffered a setback in seeking to cancel construction of the Yamba Dam in Gunma Prefecture because it made the decision without consulting parties involved.
The DPJ's misguided "politician-led policymaking" have caused the administration to repeatedly malfunction.
DPJ should reflect on blunders
Its budget screening initiative turned out to be nothing more than politicians playing to the gallery by bashing bureaucrats, and the process squeezed out only a limited amount of fiscal resources.
Based on an opposition-like stance, the DPJ took a hostile of view of bureaucrats and shunned the bureaucracy in deciding and carrying out policies. This weakened both the political and bureaucratic systems because public servants only awaited instructions from ministers, and politicians were not informed of important matters.
This problem became particularly apparent following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, when Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet failed to respond promptly. This caused confusion in helping the people in the disaster-hit areas and in dealing with the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Politicians are supposed to fully utilize bureaucrats and try to bring out their best.
When it comes to nuclear energy, the DPJ initially said operations of reactors should be resumed once their safety was confirmed. However, the party abruptly proposed an infeasible zero-nuclear power policy instead, and caused widespread confusion due to insufficient coordination with the United States and domestic local governments that host nuclear power plants.
On the economic front, the DPJ could not propose an effective growth strategy even though it promised to revive the nation's economy. It also failed to work together with the business community.
Under the slogan "from concrete to people," the government has slashed spending on public works projects from 7.1 trillion yen for fiscal 2009 to 4.6 trillion yen for fiscal 2012--a decrease that has battered local economies.
Furthermore, because of other problematic policies such as those for budgetary handouts, the general account appropriations in the initial fiscal 2012 state budget have swollen to 96.7 trillion yen, including budgets for restoration from the Great East Japan Earthquake and related expenditures, from 88.5 trillion yen in fiscal 2009.
With the issuance of deficit-covering bonds having exceeded 30 trillion yen every year in recent years, government finances have deteriorated steadily as shown by the fact that the outstanding balance of government debts is expected to reach 709 trillion yen at the end of this fiscal year--a drastic jump from fiscal 2009's 594 trillion yen.
Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, meanwhile, has failed to take responsibility even after his former secretaries were found guilty in September 2011 of charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law, tarnishing the public's image of the DPJ as a clean party.