Professor Ian Neary,
Staffs and students og the Nissan Institute,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy today to find myself among you here in Oxford. In fact, I’m feeling as if I’ve gone back to 40 years ago. I studied at Linacre from 1969 to 1971. Oxford is a place that is full of memories for me, so I am deeply moved to be able to stand here today and speak to you after such a long time. I am sincerely grateful to Professor Ian Neary of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies at St. Antony’s College and others who have provided me with this wonderful opportunity.
Back in 1960, when I entered the University of Tokyo, the protest movement against the new Security Treaty between Japan and the United States was spreading all over Japan, and the student movement in particular was getting great momentum, just similar to that in the “Quartier Latin” in Paris we saw later on in the 60’s. Among many student groups, I belonged to a modest group, became a leader of the movement, which grew into a protest against the government in 1962. It was so successful that I was expelled from the University. And after many episodes eventually, I was reaccepted to the University, proceeded to the Faculty of Law, joined the special class provided by Professor Masao Maruyama, and in 1965 passed the national bar examination. After two years of judicial training, I was appointed to be an associate judge.
And I came to Oxford when I was a young associate judge in my second year. The Supreme court dispatched me under the Japanese government sponsored scheme of “study abroad”. I read for the Diploma in Law, studying English administrative law under the supervision of Professor H. W. R. Wade. In particular, of the two principles of natural justice, I chose the right to notice and the right to a hearing for the topics of my thesis. I read many judicial precedents, one after another, wrote a dissertation comparing Japanese and English laws, passed the oral examination, and obtained the Diploma. But to be honest, I wasn’t a very enthusiastic student at all. On sunny days I would go out of Oxford with my wife and small daughter, then just a toddler of one or two years of age. I read only on rainy days. It really was a beautiful and wonderful life, just like “Seikou, Udoku” in Japanese, or “Fine, and plough; Rainy, and read” in English.
At that time, Linacre was situated to the south of the War Memorial. It was so small that I don’t think we had a Senior Common Room. I remember the day when Mr. Richard Storry who was here at St. Antony’s showed me the word cards that he used to study Japanese. Incidentally, two other young Japanese bureaucrats studied here at Oxford at that time with the same government scholarship. One was Mr. Haruhiko Kuroda, who is now the President of the Asian Development Bank; the other was Mr. Yasuo Hayashi, who is now Chairman of the Japan External Trade Organization. We are still close friends and enjoy family get-togethers.
It was during my stay here in Oxford that Mr. Yukio Mishima’s failed coup d’etat attempt occurred in Japan. Mishima, a famous author, forced his way into a facility of the Regional Headquarter of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in Tokyo, urged the SDF members to rise up, and finally, with his calls falling on deaf ears, killed himself by committing “hara-kiri”. We Japanese students were bombarded with questions from our British friends, who wondered whether Japan was again becoming a militaristic state. We understood clearly that it was an entirely individual action on the part of Mishima and that there was no foundation at all for the wish for a coup d’etat to spread among SDF members or the Japanese people. I felt keenly then that unless you have a deep understanding of the social psychology of a people, you cannot get close to really understanding the country concerned.
At the beginning of this year, I was chosen to be an Honorary Fellow of Linacre. Apparently I am the second Japanese to receive this title, and I am very honored indeed. Upon receiving the title, I was told that it did not carry any obligations whatsoever. The only request was that I should give a lecture at some time in the future when I visited Britain. I am delighted and consider myself very lucky to be able to fulfill that responsibility so quickly.
At present, I am serving as the President of the Japanese House of Councillors, the counterpart of which seems to be the Lord Speaker, not the Lord Chancellor, of the House of Lords as the result of recent change here. In 2007, the Democratic Party of Japan, which was then an opposition party, triumphed in the regular election for the House of Councillors and became the largest party in the House. By the way, the members of the Japanese upper house, the House of Councillors, are all elected. In accordance with custom, or an unwritten rule of action which we have developed after a long dispute, the largest party has the right to nominate the President, and the second has the right to nominate the Vice-President. All the members of the House, including from the right of the Liberal Democratic Party members to the left of the Communists, voted for me unanimously then, which was rather extraordinary, as I was the nominee of the DPJ group. It was the first occasion since the so-called 1955 setup was formed in Japan that a party other than the LDP had become the largest party in the House. So, until then, the President had always been from the LDP. At that time the LDP still had a majority in the House of Representatives, the lower house in Japan’s bicameral system, and was the ruling party. So the National Diet, Japan’s parliament, was divided into a twisted situation, with the ruling camp controlling the lower house and the opposition controlling the upper house. Since then, this uneasy situation continued for two years with many difficulties for the Diet management. But at last, at the end of August this year, the DPJ scored a dramatic victory in a general election for the House of Representatives and thereby became the number-one party in both the upper house and the lower house. A change of government came about, the cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, centered on the DPJ, was inaugurated, and thus, the 54 years lasting, sometimes feeling like everlasting, LDP rule has come to the end finally with the termination of the twisted Diet.
Today I would like to present some reflections on the development of the political system in Japan, drawing comparisons with Britain and mixing in episodes from my own personal career.
Significance of the Government Change in Japan
In Japan, ever since the confrontational setup, dominated by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and the reformist Japan Socialist Party, was established in 1955, the LDP had continued as the ruling party almost without interruption. Apart from the latest shift since then, we have experienced the change of power only once. That occurred in 1993, when the denunciation motion against Miyazawa cabinet had been passed in the House of Representatives because of some discontent inside LDP leaving, and the Prime Minister dissolved the House but failed in the following election. Thus, other parties than the LDP got a majority in the House of Representatives and formed a coalition government. Even though the LDP fell into opposition on that occasion, it was still the largest party in the House of Representatives, as well as in the House of Councillors. Incidentally, this non-LDP government, led by Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, was supported by seven political parties and one parliamentary group, and I, being the representative of one of the supporting parties, Shaminren, or the United Social Democratic Party, joined the cabinet as the Minister of State for Science and Technology.
In contrast, the latest change of government can be said to be a complete change, because this time the DPJ has become the number-one party in the House of Representatives. From the point of view of voters, it was difficult to claim that the Hosokawa government was chosen by the people through an election, but this past summer the framework of alternative government had been indicated clearly by the DPJ to the voters before the election, and so voters knew what was at stake and what they were getting. And as it went eventually, DPJ was given an overwhelming majority by the voters who knew what they were getting as the result. In other words, it was the first time in Japan for the citizens to vote for a government change in an election.
Reasons for the LDP’s Long Rule
The LDP’s long rule has thus been brought to an end. There are several reasons why the LDP was able to hold onto power for such a long time; more than half a century.
First of all, in the era of rapid economic growth in Japan, the LDP fulfilled the role of a catch-all party that brought together the interests of a wide range of people. The LDP organised support groups in almost all the interest groups in the key sectors and areas, such as the construction industry, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, small and medium-sized companies, medicine, and so on. This system favoured Diet members who had close links with those industries and served as a bridge between these interest groups and the administrative mechanisms which had jurisdiction over them. In exchange for the lobbying of their interests, the industries supported the Diet members by rallying votes for them. In the words of the noted US political scientist Theodore Lowi, it was an iron triangle. The three are politicians, bureaucrats, and industries. The LDP built up this setup on a large scale and was able to perpetuate its rule by redistributing income, the fruit of economic growth, throughout the country.
In addition, they had elaborated a unique technique for managing and running the government. That is, even when the cabinet of the time reached an impasse for whatever reason, the LDP was able to start over again by changing its party leader. That is to say, the LDP conducted mock government changes frequently, and with excellent timing. The LDP consists of several factions that have engaged in a battle for leadership within the party. They are like small parties within the main party. In some cases, the LDP even changed its policy course, not through a general election but through a party presidential election. By doing so, it cleverly dodged criticism of the government and was able to maintain its position as the ruling party until recently. But, this practice has come to disorder, to which I will refer later.
Another background factor was that the Japan Socialist Party, the main opposition party that should have replaced the LDP in the event of a government change, actually had no possibility of ever taking over the reins of government. In a sense, the JSP provided backup support for the long-term rule of the LDP. That is to say, the JSP did not have the strength to field enough candidates to form a majority in an election, so from the starting line it did not have the ability to take over.
The Problems of Long-Term Rule Leading to Government Change
Of course, it is a fact that the LDP governments, while entrusting Japan’s national security to its ally, the United States, were able to make people concentrate on economic growth and thereby make the people’s lives more affluent. We must frankly acknowledge this fact.
Recently however, the solid relations between business organizations and administrative ministries and agencies gradually became exclusive and lacking in transparency, and the administrations lost their legitimacy because the mock government changes were not brought about by the exercise of voting rights by the people. In particular, after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stepped down in 2006, in an attempt to hold onto power, the LDP changed its leaders, and therefore the prime ministers, about once a year, from Shinzo Abe to Yasuo Fukuda, and finally to Taro Aso. The Japanese citizens especially rejected the last one, who had not sought a mandate in a general election. Actually, he was supposed to call a general election immediately after he took hold of power as he had suggested in an article beforehand. There are many other reasons of citizens’ discontent with him such as his flippant and often mistaken comments. Anyway, when it came to the election at last in August, government change was the top issue on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, which emerged after numerous realignments as the main opposition party in place of the JSP, has accumulated governing capability. The party consists of a combination of veteran Diet members with a great deal of experience and young members who have fresh ideas and are not bound by existing methods and approaches. In Diet debates, DPJ members have often brought the LDP-led government to its knees with penetrating questions about the unfairness of its policies. At first voters were concerned about the DPJ’s governing capability, but observing such scenes, they seem gradually to have begun to think that the DPJ should be given a chance to govern.
As a result, in the August general election, the DPJ won 308 of the 480 seats in the House of Representatives against the LDP’s 119, almost a complete reversal of the situation before the election.
Of course, a change of government is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The change of government itself is highly significant, but the important thing is what can be achieved as a result of the change. At present the DPJ administration is seeking to bring about major policy changes in various fields. In my personal opinion, I believe that, now that the people have chosen the government, it is important to attempt to give substance to participatory democracy in which the people are getting accustomed to be positive members of a society in every field, and the government encourages citizens to be involved in management and government for all kinds of issues.
Model of Diet Reform in Japan
It is not the case that absolutely no political reform has been carried out in Japan. In the 1990s, political reform was continually discussed, and some action was taken. Of the wide-ranging discussions that covered such issues as electoral system reform, political donation system reform, and Diet reform, the biggest change was the introduction of single-seat constituencies for the House of Representatives. To a large extent the latest government change was the result of that system which is promoting a political system dominated by two main parties. Today, therefore, I would like to elaborate on the Diet reform.
At first, there was a tendency in Japan to see the US Congress as the model for Diet reform. For example, in the first half of the 1990s, the opinion was often expressed that legislation drafted and initiated by Diet members should be promoted as a means of invigorating the activities of the Japanese Diet. Many people also proposed that an accountability office should be established in the Diet in order to monitor the administration more closely and strictly. Behind these opinions was the idea that the US Congress, which, under a strict separation of powers, works effectively on the draft bills proposed by its members and runs the powerful Government Accountability Office, should be referred to as a model.
In response, others argued that the US political system is too different from that of Japan, and thus the British Parliament, which has the same parliamentary cabinet system, should be the model. In a book published in 1993, Ichiro Ozawa, a member of the House of Representatives who is now Secretary General of the DPJ, proposed to bring the cabinet and the ruling party closer in political practice and to assign many ruling party members in the government structure so as to establish politician-led rather than bureaucracy-led policymaking.
After that, as a result of studies by each party, a law to invigorate Diet deliberations was enacted in 1999. This introduced a debate among party leaders modeled after “Question Time” in the British House of Commons and established a system of senior vice-ministers selected from members of the Diet in order to unify the ruling party and the cabinet. Furthermore, Japanese political parties now issue manifestos before elections. This system has become quite well established. Needless to say, British influence is strongly evident here as well.
The debates among party leaders take place in the form of a joint meeting of the Committees on Fundamental National Policies set up in both Houses. The opposition party leaders face separately the leader of the ruling party, that is, the Prime Minister, and ask him questions. If debates are held, they are scheduled to take place for 45 minutes from 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoons. The party leader debates are not held in weeks when the Prime Minister attends a plenary session of the Diet or a meeting of the Budget Committee. In fact, the party leader debates were held only three times last year and have been held only twice so far this year, which is not enough at all.
The senior vice-minister system was introduced in response to criticism that the system until then of parliamentary vice-ministers had become emasculated. An average of two senior vice-ministers, sometimes one or three, are assigned to each ministry or agency and, under the direction of the minister, engage in policymaking and answer questions in the Diet. As parliamentary secretaries, who average two per ministry or agency, are also added, around five politically appointed officials are sent to each ministry or agency. In the present Hatoyama cabinet, all the ministers, senior vice-ministers, and parliamentary secretaries are Diet members. In Britain, there are reportedly calls for a revision of the system because too many ruling party members are assigned to the government. But in Japan, it has just begun. The Japanese media is watching closely to see how the Hatoyama cabinet exercises political leadership over bureaucracy.
Also, in the British Parliament I hear that a custom exists of giving a powerful role to the opposition. For example, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee is elected from the opposition parties and is exercising an extremely important role. In Japan as well, if the change of government becomes common, I think such practices will emerge as a matter of wisdom in Diet management.
Thoughts on the Government Change
The political situation in Japan has certainly reached a major turning point. Other than that, I cannot help expressing my own personal enthusiasm on the realisation of government change. Let me speak a little about my personal life.
My father, Saburo Eda, was a member of the Diet belonging to the Japan Socialist Party. As I explained earlier, apart from one short period, the JSP at that time was quite unable to take over the reins of power. In 1976, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of starting his career as a Diet member, my father wrote the following ironic verse:
Twenty-five years a Diet member
Without taking power
Within the JSP, which was strongly influenced by the principles of Marxism-Leninism at that time, my father appealed for pragmatic structural reform. Among other things, he studied with the Fabian Society, and in the mid-1970s he visited Britain and attended a Labour Party conference in Blackpool. His views were not accepted in the JSP, however, and later he left the party to form the Socialist Citizens’ League and prepare for a House of Councillors election. Unfortunately, just two months later he fell ill and passed away.
As I mentioned already, I had returned from Oxford to the Japanese court, and my father’s tragedy occurred just when my work as a judge was getting steadily on track. I thought I was leading a very rewarding life. I had a growing belief that this work suited me and that I wanted to continue it for the rest of my life. Since my father was a politician, it was sometimes thought that eventually I too would switch over to politics. But I had no desire to be a politician, or even rejected the idea. I had seen my father’s political activities from close at hand and knew how tough and fruitless the job was. I deliberately put a distance between myself and a political career. Even when people tempted me, I stubbornly refused.
However, my father fell ill with his aspirations still unfulfilled. The day that he died happened to be my thirty-sixth birthday. I felt as if my father had chosen that day, and I realised that I should feel the call of destiny. Until then, I had observed my father’s struggle and understood what he was saying, so I said to myself, “Now is the time to take over his banner.” I decided at last to make the move from judge to politician.
Then, I became the representative of the Socialist Citizens’ League and was elected to be a member of the House of Councillors with nearly 1.4 million votes and became the second highest winner in the single, nationwide constituency, which selected 50 members in each election. I then became a member of the House of Representatives, being elected for four consecutive times in top place in my local hometown constituency. In 1985, I became the representative of Shaminren (the United Social Democratic Party). After running for the Governor’s election in 1996 and, failing with a very small margin, I returned to national politics in 1998, joining the Democratic Party of Japan from its second beginning. It is more than 32years since I changed to politics and it is more than half a century since my father went to the Diet. Apart from the very short period of the Hosokawa cabinet, my father and I always participated in politics on the opposition side during this time.
I believed that in order for Japanese citizens not simply to accept policies handed down to them but to be positively involved in and participate in politics, it was essential for them to experience a change of government in which they themselves choose the administration. And when government change becomes common, a sense of adequate tension in relations between the ruling and opposition parties will be sustained. Since I am currently serving as President of the House of Councillors, a post that requires impartiality, I will not say which party I think should be in power. But I am sure you can understand my enthusiasm after such a long history. Needless to say, I immediately went to my parents” grave and reported the news with “Kohakumanjyu” or red and white cakes which we only eat on celebratory occasions.
The Authority of the President of the House of Councillors
The authority of the Speaker of the British House of Commons has been enhanced by custom. In Britain you have accumulated good rules for carrying out the Speaker’s role, and now these have become a rule of custom to manage the fruitful process of parliament. In Japan also, the custom is employed in the process of the Diet. Every President of the House of Councillors and Speaker of the House of Representatives has pursued fairness and impartiality during their terms in office. Now, we must leave our party-affiliation in the House to ensure neutrality from an independent standpoint. In my case, unlike before, the Democratic Party of Japan, to which I belonged, was the opposition when I was appointed and it has changed to the ruling party. But whatever party it is, the ruling party, which forms the government after an election, must get down to addressing difficult issues, and the parties in opposition must carry out strict monitoring of the government, a difficult role but one that is essential for a democracy. On the basis of this recognition, I believe that my job from now on is to be even more mindful of Diet management so that discussions between the ruling and opposition parties are lively, points of contention are presented clearly to the people, and problems are clarified.
Finally, I would like to conclude my lecture, which it has been my privilege to deliver, by asking you all, as people qualified to supply knowledge and wisdom widely from all around the democratic world, to give your good advice concerning the development of democracy in Japan. I also wish you all every success in your endeavours. Thank you very much for your kind attention.