Japan: Kan faces first test as Prime Minister

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Election Date: July 11, 2010

At stake: House of Councillors

Background

After World War II ended, Japan’s foremost body of law was re-written during the American occupation. Article 9 of the Constitution literally states that, “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

In 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was established. Aside from a brief period in the 1990s, the LDP has administered Japan’s government for more than five decades.

During the second half of the 20th century, Japan’s automobile and electronics industries were the key factors in turning the country into the second most powerful economy in the world. In 1997, a financial crisis affected much of Asia, hampering Japan’s success.

Junichiro Koizumi became Japan’s prime minister in April 2001. Koizumi earned a new mandate in the November 2003 general election. Japanese voters renewed the House of Councillors in July 2004.

In 2005, Koizumi called an election to garner the public’s support for the privatization of Japan Post, after the House of Councillors rejected his proposal. The LDP secured 296 of the 480 seats in the House of Representatives.

Click here for Japan’s 2005 Legislative Election Tracker

The privatization policy sought to divide the country’s state-operated Japan Post into four companies—postal savings, postal life insurance, mail delivery and post office management. Japan Post is the Asian country’s largest employer—with 400,000 workers—and also the world’s biggest savings bank, worth an estimated $3.1 trillion U.S. in funds and insurance policies. In October 2005, the two houses of the Diet passed the government’s postal reform plan.

On Sept. 20, 2006, the members of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) selected Shinzo Abe, who had served as chief cabinet secretary, as their new president. Abe defeated foreign minister Taro Aso and finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki in the internal ballot.

On Sept. 26, Abe officially became Japan’s prime minister, taking over from fellow party member Koizumi. Abe vowed to “make Japan into a country full of vitality, opportunities and kindness.” The prime minister lowered his own salary by 30 per cent, and reduced the salaries of all cabinet members by 10 per cent.

The year 2007 proved to be full of scandals for the sitting cabinet. In January, health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa called women “birth-giving machines,” prompting calls for his resignation. Abe refused to dismiss Yanagisawa.

In March, deputy chief cabinet secretary Hakubun Shimomura questioned the validity of claims that Japan exploited women during World War II, saying, “It is true that there were ‘comfort women,’ but I believe some parents may have sold their daughters. It does not mean the Japanese army was involved.”

On May 28, agricultural minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide. Matsuoka was involved in two corruption scandals; one for alleged bid-rigging in road construction projects, and another in which he was accused of inflating his office expenses.

On May 29, Shinichi Yamazaki, the former executive director of the semi-governmental Japan Green Resources Agency—which was also the target of a corruption investigation—apparently killed himself three days after he was interrogated by prosecutors.

A week after Matsuoka’s passing, Abe’s cabinet approved a series of recommendations made by an appointed expert panel looking into ways to reduce Japan’s suicide rate—one of the highest in the industrialized world. According to official statistics for 2007, about 30,000 Japanese people took their own lives on each of the previous nine years.

In May, the House of Representatives approved a motion extending Japan’s mission in Iraq until July 2009. The bill included a call for the “re-examination of Japan’s political decision to support the war in Iraq at the time, considering that weapons of mass destruction were not found.”

In June, prime minister Abe was forced to deal with a series of scandals related to the country’s pension system—including an admission by the Social Insurance Agency that it could not identify close to 50 million payment records.

In July, Abe accepted the resignation of defence minister Fumio Kyuma, who had been criticized after his controversial remarks on the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Kyuma had told a student audience on Jun. 31: “I now have come to accept in my mind that in order to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers of people suffered great tragedy.” Kyuma represented one of Nagasaki’s constituencies in the House of Representatives.

A new scandal related to the agricultural ministry broke out in July, as a newspaper reported that Matsuoka’s successor, Norihiko Akagi, had claimed $730,000 U.S. in fees for an office registered to a supporters’ group that was based at his parents’ home. Akagi tendered his resignation in August.

An election to the House of Councillors took place on Jul. 29. Final results gave the DPJ 60 of the 121 seats at stake, and 37 mandates to the governing LDP. The opposition now holds a majority in the upper house of Japan’s Diet for the first time since the LDP was founded in 1955.

Click here for Japan’s 2007 House of Councillors Election Tracker

Prime minister Abe announced in September he was stepping down, saying, “I find myself unable to keep my promises”. On Sept. 23, Yasuo Fukuda, a 71-year-old moderate calling for closer ties with Asia, was elected as the new LDP leader. On Sept. 25, Fukuda was officially sworn in as Japan’s prime minister

A year later, in September 2008, Fukuda announced he would step down as he felt “swamped” by the country’s issues. Foreign minister Taro Aso won an internal leadership ballot and was sworn in as Japan’s new prime minister.

By the end of the year, Aso had had to apologize for a series of gaffes, including a comment made about how the “feeble elderly” should do more to stay healthy because people pay taxes for their care.

Japan was hit hard by a global financial crisis that unraveled in 2008. Aso’s government introduced two different stimulus packages to boost the economy, one in October and one in December.

In January 2009, Aso admitted that his family’s mining company used prisoners of war as slaves during World War II.

In February, finance minister and close Aso ally Shoichi Nakagawa strongly denied accusations that he was drunk at a press conference he offered in Rome during a G-7 summit. Nakagawa blamed his odd behaviour on cold and flu medication he took on his flight to Italy. The minister said he “had a toast and drank a little,” but added, “I think the meaning of being drunk and have a little toast is very different.”

On Mar. 26, Aso accepted the resignation of deputy finance minister Koichi Hirata, who breached the government’s ethics guidelines by selling $6.3 million U.S. worth of stock at an inflated price.

On May 11, DPJ leader Ozawa announced he would step down as leader of the opposition. Ozawa—a former member of the LDP—had been urged to resign after his chief aide Takanori Okubo was accused of accepting close to $212,000 U.S. in illegal donations from the Nishimatsu Construction company. He had been the DPJ’s leader since 2006.

Yukio Hatoyama won an internal DPJ ballot to head the party. He kept Ozawa as deputy leader. Hatoyama vowed to “bring about a regime change for sure” in Japan.

On Jun. 23, LDP lawmaker Taku Yamamoto said he had collected 216 signatures in a petition to hold an early leadership ballot in order to replace Aso before a general election takes place.

On Jul. 13, Japanese prime minister Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) announced he would dissolve the legislature and call an election to the lower house for Aug. 30. Final results gave the DPJ 42.4 per cent of the vote. The LDP garnered 26.7 per cent of all cast ballots.

Click here for Japan’s 2009 House of Representatives Election Tracker

On Sept. 16, Hatoyama was sworn in as Japan’s new prime minister, stating, “I have mixed feelings of excitement about changing history and the very heavy responsibility of making history. The battle begins now.”

In December, Hatoyama was criticized after it was revealed that political donations registered under the names of several individuals actually came from his mother. The Japanese prime minister has acknowledged receiving a monthly contribution of about $164,000 U.S. from his mother, but vowed to pay back taxes and penalties amounting to about $6.5 million U.S.

In January 2010, three current and former aides of Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ’s secretary general, were arrested and charged with falsifying information in party fundraising reports. The three men were identified as Mitsutomo Ikeda, DPJ lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, and Takanori Okubo.

On Jun. 2, Hatoyama tendered his resignation, citing a broken election promise over the permanence of an American army base in the Okinawa prefecture. On Jun. 8, former finance minister Naoto Kan took over as prime minister.

2011 House of Councillors Election

The election to renew half of the seats in Japan’s upper house is scheduled for Jul. 11.

On Jun. 17, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan presented the DPJ’s platform, saying, “There has long existed a tendency in the political world to regard discussing the consumption tax as taboo, but we dare to mention it in our manifesto. Unless we shift to fiscal reconstruction, we won’t be able even to compile a budget.”

The LDP is calling for the enactment of a basic law on national security, which would allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defence. LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki declared: “It is the LDP’s mission given from voters to break the majority control of the ruling parties. We will win without fail.”

Political Players

Emperor: Akihito
Prime minister: Naoto Kan – DPJ

Legislative Branch: The Kokkai (Diet) has two chambers. The Shugi-in (House of Representatives) has 480 members, elected to four-year terms; 300 members in single-seat constituencies and 180 members by proportional representation in 11 regions. The Sangi-in (House of Councillors) has 247 members, elected to six-year terms; 149 members in multi-seat constituencies and 98 by proportional representation.

Results of Last Election:

House of Representatives – Aug. 30, 2009

Single Seats

Prop. Seats

Vote (Prop.)

Total Seats

DPJ–SDP–PNP Coalition

227

91

48.4%

318

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) 221 87 42.4% 308
Social Democratic Party (SDP) 3 4 4.3% 7
People’s New Party (PNP) 3 1.7% 3
LDP–Komeito Coalition

64

76

38.2%

140

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 64 55 26.7% 119
New Komeito Party (NKP) 21 11.5% 21
Japanese Communist Party (JCP) 9 7.0% 9
Your Party (YP) 2 3 4.3% 5
Others and independent factions 7 1 2.1% 8

House of Councillors – Jul. 29, 2007
(121 of 242 seats at stake)

Vote%
(Prop.)

Seats

House Strength (2007)

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) 39.5% 60 109
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 28.1% 37 83
Komeito Clean Government Party (Kt) 13.2% 9 20
Communist Party of Japan (CPJ) 7.5% 3 7
Social Democratic Party (SDP) 4.5% 2 5
People’s New Party (PNP) 2.2% 2 4
New Party Nippon (NPN) 3.0% 1 1
Independents 2.1% 7 13