Tokyo Notes

Bureaucratic Fascism?

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Tokyo Notes

Bureaucratic Fascism?

Japan’s preferred choice for PM says the country could slip back into ‘bureaucratic fascism.’

Japan is at a watershed, says Yoshimi Watanabe, the people’s preferred choice for prime minister according to a weekend poll. The nation, he claims, can move toward creating a normally functioning parliamentary democracy or risk slipping back into ‘bureaucratic fascism.’

Speaking at a Tokyo press conference, Watanabe, whose Your Party rocketed its way into third place in Japan’s recent upper house election, also said the Bank of Japan needed to move away from its ‘deflationary policies’ and consider employment when choosing measures. He also called on the consumption tax to be turned into a revenue source for local government. As for talk of a coalition with the DPJ, he said Your Party was not interested in entering a ‘partial coalition,’ but instead sought a policy-by-policy-based ‘cross coalition’ in which it cooperates with ruling and opposition parties depending on the issue.

‘The fundamental tenet of our party is that we believe Japan has been severely damaged by the centralization of authority and by the unified policies that are implemented by the bureaucracy. We think these are two tremendous problems and we want to fundamentally change the situation,’ Watanabe said.

‘We believe the bureaucracy basically governs the country. I believe under the DPJ administration this tendency has become even stronger than before,’ Watanabe said citing the ‘nationalization’ of JAL, the ‘re-nationalization’ of Japan Post and backpedaling over the privatization of highway corporations.

‘Under Prime Minister Kan, we have seen the DPJ administration allow free rein to the bureaucracy to pursue amakudari policies, allowing former bureaucrats to find better jobs after they retire. This was something even LDP administrations hesitated to do.’

Watanabe, who left the LDP in January 2009 and formed Your Party in August 2009, insisted that politicians should be allowed to choose and control the bureaucrats who work for them and for the people.

‘This is common sense what I’m saying, but it is people in Kasumigaseki, the bureaucrats themselves, who are most opposed to this kind of policy. I believe that we have come to a watershed in Japanese politics, if we continue along one route we will possibly enter a situation of bureaucratic fascism…or we will find ourselves in a situation in which we can truly create a properly functioning parliamentary democracy.’

In particular, he said a grand coalition between the DPJ and the LDP, two parties he described as proponents of big government with bureaucrat-led policymaking and higher taxes, would alienate the public.

‘If these parties created an alliance, what would the reaction of the Japanese people be? I fear they would lose all expectations or hopes of political leadership and would become very nihilistic and step away from following politics and we would find ourselves in a situation similar to the 1930s when the bureaucracy really did dominate politics. History tends to repeat itself. A bureaucratic fascism could appear.’

Rather than a grand coalition or a partial coalition, as is in existence now, a more constructive kind of coalition would be a ‘cross-coalition,’ Watanabe said, explaining that Your Party sought to engage with both opposition and ruling parties on an issue-by-issue basis.

Were that issue the consumption tax, he would not be willing to enter discussions about raising it, but would consider debating what it is used for. He said that changing the tax into a revenue source for local government, thereby replacing existing government grants and subsidies, would empower the regions, releasing them from both bureaucratic and centralized control, the party’s two bete noires.

He also said his party would put forward bills suggesting changes to the position of the Bank of Japan, which he slammed for conducting deflationary policies. The BOJ should be required to agree with the government on inflation targets and factor into its policies the stabilizing of employment.

Again he blamed bureaucratic control not just for one ‘lost decade’ but two. He characterized bank officials as conducting deflationary policies of simply tightening monetary policy when prices rose and loosening policy when prices dropped more than one percent. As if that wasn’t enough, he went as far as to say they were playing a game in which having to tighten monetary policy represented a win and loosening policy a loss.

‘We must do three things: Ease monetary policy, adopt an assertive fiscal policy and encourage a cheaper yen. It’s something that must be done on the basis of political leadership. You can’t leave these things up to bureaucrats. If we allow bureaucrats to take control of this situation we will find Japan becoming a third-rate nation.’

Eventually he tempered his full-frontal assault on the bureaucracy by saying he was not actually bashing them at all. The issue was that politicians should have control over the bureaucracy and that they had to be able to choose their bureaucrats to do that.

Theatrical at times, funny at others, this was a performance of a party leader brimming with confidence after going from no votes to 14 million in less than a year, something he described as a hop. But he has a far tougher task ahead of himself if he thinks he can make the step and the jump to power in a general election.