Within the iron triangle

Alexia Fuller

Politics, Society and culture | East Asia

17 March 2014

Alexia Fuller sends in an update on Japanese politics from her summer school in Tokyo.

Alighting from the subway and stepping out into the hot Tokyo night you wouldn’t be mistaken to think you were in a country town. The overwhelming silence and peace washes over your body and you realise that only in Japan could a city of about thirteen million people be so quiet.

However, every three years in the hot weeks of July members of the Diet (Japan’s legislature) step out of their ivory tower just about Kasumigaseki and venture out into towns and cities of Japan disrupting this peaceful silence.

What was striking to me was the method in which Japanese politicians campaign. The standard campaign strategy is a stage mounted on the top of a combie style van. The van is often parked on thoroughfares with heavy traffic and politicians climb onto the roof making loud cries about the future of Japan and how they feel they should fix it. Surrounding the van are young volunteers passing out flyers and spruiking almost as loudly as their boss standing on the stage. It’s worse than union court on ANUSA election week!

On July 21st 2013 the Japanese people ventured to the polls for the Upper House Elections with the hopes of finally silencing these bellowing politicians. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s promise of rehabilitating the Japanese economy seemed to have resonated with many Japanese people. The feeling among Japanese generally is that before society can move forward on an other issue; nuclear power, relations with East Asia and most importantly Article 9, Japan needs to get on the road to economic recovery. This was the comment I heard over and over again.

The overwhelming media coverage on the election particularly internationally has been that the election represented a consolidation of power for Japan’s long ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and an affirmation in Abe’s agenda. However, in the Japanese policy making system a Diet majority in both houses is not enough to secure the passage of a Prime Minister’s reform agenda.

Japanese politics is defined by the power relationship between old guard LDP politicians, special interest which, assists them in being re-elected and bureaucratic institutions. For a bill to reach the Japanese parliament it is required to pass through party committees and is then reviewed by the relevant ministry that the legislation applies to. The Prime Minister and Cabinet wield little power in being able to achieve and meet their desired policy goals. The ‘iron triangle’ of the LDP, the bureaucracy and special interest present extensive roadblocks.

The Japanese people may be calling for real action in stimulating economic recovery and the government’s executive might be working hard to try and achieve this. However, whether or not Japan will see concrete economic reform will ultimately depend on the decisions made within the ‘iron triangle’.

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