Saturday, November 17, 2007

The LDP and DPJ: Political Life under the National Consensus

The following is one part of my end of an exchange with my Japan guru, edited and supplemented to make it a stand-alone post. Thanks, RS.

I am increasingly convinced that the LDP is a heterogeneous political party that works within a relatively narrow range of policy options that still appears to be circumscribed by what came to be known as the Yoshida Doctrine. In other words, be nice to your neighbors, minimize external engagement on military issues, and support the market economy, with due respect for a proper balance of vested interests. Anyone who attempts to overstep such confines braves antagonizing public sentiment and must quickly pull back to more comfortable quarters. Look at how much Prime Minister Abe had to scale back his constitutional ambitions, even as he managed to push the long-missing, procedural referendum bill through the Diet. The DPJ has become what it is by emulating this formula, including its heterogeneity, most recently under its most formidable proponent, Ichiro Ozawa.

So, whichever of the two major parties prevails over the next six years (the minimum election cycle, barring the unlikely event of a DPJ implosion, for the LDP-New Kōmeitō coalition to regain the Upper House), or even in the unlikely event of a return to the fractious turbulence of the 1990s, the practical outcome for the nation will be far less than the sea change or the fossilization that are the hopes and fears of some segments of the Japunditry and other assorted Japan hands. Statecraft follows the popular mandate, whatever the political game dictates.

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