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Letter from Japan: Pure Greed
With Prime Minister Mori set to be dumped, will the LDP relinquish control of the nation? I wish!
By PETER McKILLOP

November 17, 2000
Web posted at 2:50 p.m. Hong Kong time, 1:50 a.m. EDT


 INTERACTIVE  
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While the rest of the world looks in bewilderment at the never-ending legal drama surrounding the U.S. presidential election, Japan is embroiled in a struggle for its next Prime Minister. Again! With almost a new Prime Minister each year for the past decade, Japan has gone through leaders as fast as Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands.

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   ASIAWEEK
Intelligence
The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

The names all blur into a gray mass of indecision: Miyazawa, Hatta, Obuchi, Murayama, Hashimoto... And all come and go with one result: Japan sinks deeper and deeper into a sea of red ink. With every new Prime Minister come new revelations of just how troubled Japan's economy is. And just as the sun sets, and rises, with every new leader comes the instant realization that nothing will be done about it.

Japan and the U.S. are both witnessing the spectacle of pure, unvarnished political greed. The world's two mightiest economic democracies find themselves trapped by the refusal of their elected representatives to look no further than what is in it for them.

In Florida, both George W. Bush and Al Gore have no qualms dragging a disbelieving public through the political muck of this fetid electoral swamp. Both men are obsessed with becoming President. Yet each day, a growing number of Americans would be delighted if neither got the top job. As the credibility gap grows between these candidates and the voters, so does the obvious self-denial that seems to be propelling these two men to undertake yet more embarrassing legal tactics to squeeze one or two more votes from exhausted Florida vote- counters.

Electoral shenanigans and the total pursuit of self-interest should come as no surprise to followers of Japanese politics. At first glance, Japanese politics seems so complicated. All those strange names, the ebb and flow of factions, the Byzantine parliamentary procedures, is, if you are nutty enough to care, the political equivalent of Chinese water torture. Japanese politics, though, boils down to this: LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) self-preservation. Like Bush and Gore, the ruling LDP and its members will do anything to remain in power. Anything! Gerrymandered districts, bias towards one constituency over another, vote-buying -- all these cherished Floridian tricks are well known in Japan. All are done for one reason: to subvert the will of the people to maintain the self- interests of one politician or party.

How else could one explain the inability of a Japanese political leader to emerge as a real leader after 10 lousy years? Year after year, and far beyond the reach of regular voters, the revolving doors to the office of the Prime Minister's whirls as fast as one political faction can spin it. Next week Yoshiro Mori may lose his job. Why? Not because he is completely unacceptable for the job (the overwhelming public consensus in Japan), but because the shadow puppeteers of his faction have lost to the puppeteers of another faction. So Mori will fall, and a new leader will rise, only to fall in a few months, felled by sneaky behind-the-scene tactics of a rival coalition.

Is this anyway to run a government? With Japan experiencing a decade-long economic recession, with it no nearer to achieving its foreign policy goals than it was a decade ago, and with vast portions of the electorate opting out of politics, the answer should clearly be NO!

My hope is that reasonable voters in Japan and the U.S. will eventually wake up from this politically induced slumber and realize that democracies should be guided by the self-interest of a nation, not an individual person or party.

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