Japan: Balancing Bureaucracy with Change

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
DPJ Poster "Government Change", www.dpj.or.jp
DPJ Poster "Government Change", www.dpj.or.jp

Change had been predicted, change occurred. Parliamentary elections in Japan brought two victors: First, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which won almost two thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives. Second, opinion pollsters, who predicted the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would be defeated. My skepticism towards the opinion polls proved unjustified.

In the latest edition of ISN Podcasts, I talked to Dan Harada, an insider to Japanese politics, about the elections and their implications. According to him, the DPJ now faces a dilemma: On the one hand, the new government needs to fulfill its election pledge and strengthen the role of politicians in lawmaking at the cost of bureaucrats. On the other hand, the DPJ needs to cooperate with the bureacracy in order to realize their policies.

2 replies on “Japan: Balancing Bureaucracy with Change”

I partly agree with you, Kaisa, and the British comedy series Yes Minister illustrates the point very well. Yet, let me give you three reasons why I think the DPJ faces a particular intricate dilemma.

First, the DPJ’s main pledge was to take power from the bureaucrats so that policies are actually made by democratically legitimized politicians. This pledge, if realized, cannot but offend the bureaucrats.

Second, unlike the Washington but like Westminster, Japan has a strong mandarin system, which means that top bureaucrats stay in power, even if the government changes.

And finally, after 54 years of LDP rule, the party and the bureaucracy have become familiar, if not intimate with each other.

However, in assuming control over policy making, the new DPJ cabinet will have one advantage, according to The Economist: It does not need to fight a parallel party structure of policy-making bodies and committees as LDP governments needed to.

Isn’t this a dilemma any new governing party/bloc faces? Is the Japanese bureaucracy– and other status quo interests– really any more entrenched in a practical sense than, say, the Washington establishment or the virulently anti-Democratic conservatives that currently dominate the Republican party (and do their very best to bloc health reform or environmental legislation)?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.