Who Is the Prime Minister of Japan, Again?

Naoto Kan is still Prime Minister of Japan. Image: WEF/Wikimedia Commons

Naoto Kan passed a vote of no confidence last week after he had promised to step down soon. (Let’s keep aside the discussion of what he meant by “soon”.) His problem was not so much the opposition, who initiated the vote but only holds a minority of seats in the Lower House. Kan’s authority is challenged from within his own Democratic Party. Already the second prime minister since the party finally managed to take power in 2009, Kan is criticized for his handling of the triple catastrophe that hit Japan in March. (Again, let’s not argue whether the criticism is justified; after all, I want to make a more general argument.)

The Democratic Party holds a solid majority in the crucial Lower House and the next general elections are two years away. Then why is the ruling party so obsessed with changing its leadership? (A bad habit the DPJ seems to have inherited from its predecessor, the LDP.) One answer might be that Japanese politicians care much, probably too much, about opinion polls. Another possible answer is that there is a culture of demission: ministers are expected to step down in order to show responsibility for something that has happened or something they have done. While accountability is a necessary feature of a democratic political system, the threshold for demission seems far too low in Japan*.

Let’s have a look at one consequence of this culture of demission.

Until Politics Do Us Part

It's Only Love. photo: Olivier Kaderli/flickr

If Latin American politics can sometimes look like a bad Telenovela, Guatemala has just added two more characters to the cast: Alvaro Colom, the country’s president, and Sandra Torres, the first lady.

Torres announced on 8 March that she planned to run for president as the candidate of a coalition of her husband’s UNE party and the Great National Alliance in September’s general elections. However, as the Guatemalan constitution blocks relatives of sitting president’s from running for office, the couple now decided to quietly file for divorce in an attempt to circumvent the country’s set of fundamental principles.

The Colom-Torres divorce set off an avalanche of criticism from opposition parties, members of the Catholic Church and conservative elements of Guatemalan society, with the leading right-wing Patriot Party (a favorite to win the next elections) calling it an “electoral fraud.” Shortly thereafter, a group of university law students filed the first legal challenge to the divorce, followed by seven further petitions by representatives of different sectors within Guatemalan society.

ISN Weekly Theme: A Look Inside Israel

Menorah, Knesset in Jerusalem. Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki/wikicommons

The heterogeneity and complexity of Israeli society is often ignored in the mainstream media, which focuses almost exclusively on Israeli foreign policy and the Arab-Israeli conflict. This week the ISN takes a closer look at the dynamics of Israeli society today, revealing a broad range of political viewpoints and visions of what the state of Israel is all about.

This week’s Special Report contains the following content, easily navigated along the tab structure above:

  • An Analysis by Dominic Moran on the divides between secular and religious Jews and within Jewish religious communities.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including reports on Israel’s Gaza blockade.
  • Primary Resources, including historical documents on the founding of the state of Israel.
  • Links to relevant websites and articles on Israel.
  • Our IR Directory, featuring a broad range of Jewish NGOs, such as the Yitzhak Rabin Center.

Japan: Apologetic (Political) Culture

Taro Aso apologizes to party fellows, 21 July 2009

Today, I, Taro Aso, decided to dissolve the House of Representatives and seek a popular mandate.  [I]mprovident statements I have made caused mistrust among the public and damaged its confidence in politics. […]

This is also with regard to the disunity within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). My shortcomings have created mistrust among the public, and as the President of the party, I should like to extend my most sincere apologies.

Thus were the words amplified by apologetic bows the Japanese prime minister uttered at a press conference 21 July. In my ears they sounded like the admission of failure and I expected Aso to announce his resignation the next minute.

He did not. After a coup withing his own party failed, Aso is staying firm and is propping up the party for the upcoming general elections.

Japanese politics of recent years can be read as a history of apologies.