Kyodo News
Ex-lawmaker Suzuki jailed for 2 years, fined Y11 mil

Friday, November 5, 2004 at 10:41 JST
TOKYO — The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Muneo Suzuki to two years in prison and fined him 11 million yen for taking bribes, not reporting political donations, and perjury.

Suzuki, 56, had pleaded not guilty to all the charges in the trial that began in November 2002. Suzuki was a member of the House of Representatives belonging to the LDP but left the governing party in March 2002 before his arrest in June that year.

We might not have a general election in Japan for up to another three years or so, but at least we're throwing some of the rotten ones in jail. One of the big challenges for the general elections in Japan will be whether we can get election reform back on track. Other than the fact that the ruling party has been in power almost non-stop for 50 years, we have some serious problems with our election system. The Prime Minister is not directly elected. This is similar to the UK where your parliamentarians select the Prime Minister, but in Japan, they don't have to tell you who they would vote for. The Prime Minister is chosen by the elders of the ruling party behind closed doors. There was a movement to reform this, but because of Prime Minister Koizumi's enormous popularity when he was selected, the people THOUGHT they had voted him in. Not true. The elders had just decided to select him to appease the people and possibly derail this election reform.

Another huge problem in Japan is the disparity of voting weights. They are very old and some rural areas have 5 times the voting power of people living in Tokyo. The Supreme Court of Japan has come close to calling this unconstitutional (because it is) and have asked the Diet to reallocate "or else"... but there is never "or else"... This supports the pork barrel politics of rural politicians subsidizing public works and skimming, which Suzuki was famous for.

The problem with Japan is that our democracy and our election process is so broken, it's not just a matter of getting people to vote and it's not even a matter of choosing the better of two evils. The ruling party wins and they choose the Prime Minister. You don't have much of a choice and without a massive, almost revolutionary uprising, reform is probably not possible. (sigh)

On the bright side, the prefectural Governors are elected more or less directly and are often very representative of the people. We should dissolve the central government and split Japan up into at least three nation-states. IMHO.

8 Comments

How would splitting Japan up really help?

Many countries have the problems you talk about. The US has a similar setup, where rural states have extra weight in the system (though not to the degree you are talking about). Also, in the US, the system makes it very difficult for new parties to emerge. A lot of the electoral areas appear to be gerrymandered. There is no independent electoral commission, except in one state.

On the other hand, in Europe (outside the UK) we tend to have coalitions which sometimes aren't all that coherent. It can be a bit unstable.

Well, each region has natural strengths. The south of Japan is VERY close to Korea and could be a trading partner. It was traditionally the port of Japan. These guys would be good at facing towards Asia rather than the US. Hokkaido, the Northern most island nearly touches Russia. There is, believe it or not, a great deal of cultural diversity as well. Each of our prefectures are HUGE. Chiba, the prefecture I live in has 6M people. It's the size many countries.

The way that the central government has evolved is to push subsidies to the regional government businesses, but then heavily drain them of cash with overhead caused by organizations run by retired bureaucrats. A lot of the cash that flows through politicians flows right back into the coffers of corruption. The immense cost of the central government is not worth it in my opinion. Even if you didn't dissolve the central government, making it MUCH smaller and allowing more local taxation and freedom from these strange national semi-public entities would be a good start.

The problem with Japan is that it is a ONE PARTY system. It is MUCH harder to change than a two party system.

Well, I don't know, there's not much flexibility in a two-party system. In Europe, a division between the left and the right works moderately well (it depends on your criterion for success, of course). In the US, well, there's really not that much dividing democrats from republicans. There is a little concensus, and then everybody tries to score points around it. I think that having the legislature elected separately from the administration really makes this problem worse.

Again, criteria for success is a problem. Who can say that the Japanese system hasn't worked well since the war, overall? (The system has served Japan well, but it is now going stale by the looks of it.)

The problem with representative democracy in general is that it inevitably ends up being a one-party system. Even a system cleverly devised to keep one side from making radical decisions unchecked (the US repulican government) has failed in that respect. With the Senate, the House and the Presidency firmly in Republican hands, the entire apparatus of American government is one, well-oiled, synchronized machine with a common goal - in other words, it's a Hive.

In a representative democracy, you're voting for a person or a party, who may or may not share all your sets of ideals. For example, say you're anti-abortion - you'll vote for Bush. But then - surprise! - that also makes you anti-gun-control and pro-religion in schools. The other problem with this is that people are not perfect. Imagine that! It's true; people can actually make mistakes, change opinions, and lie during a campaign to attain power. Hard to believe, isn't it? ;) What happens then?

Well, you're essentially stuck with a dictatorship for four years, until you elect your next one. The government pretty much has free reign (even the ones with purported checks and balances against that - see above), and not much can get in its way.

Personally I think the Ancient Greeks had democracy down pretty good (except for the whole white-males-only thing). Direct democracy is where the will of the people is consulted on every single major issue/amendment that affects the nation. This can lead to chaos (California) and/or low voter turnout (Switzerland), but with ubiquitous access to information, and the development of a stable eVoting platform (Apple? iVote? iBallot? ;) ), it can definitely take off.

Detractors say that it will take too much time for people to vote in referenda on each and every single issue, too much of a hassle. How much of a hassle is it, though, when your government makes a wrong decision?

Japan seems ripe for a foray into direct democracy, because of the technological / communications platform there. So, the problem with Japan (and all rep. democracies, imho), isn't that it's a ONE party system (I don't see how two party systems are easier to change, btw), but that it's a PARTY system, period.

Voter apathy is one of the biggest problems that I can see in Japan - most of my friends really have no idea about who the politicians are and what issues are being debated. I know more than they do and that's pretty sad, considering how little I know.

Japanese politicians seem to respond to shame and scandal more than anything else - that puts a tool in the hands of the people if they would be willing to educate themselves and start calling them out when they see something wrong. As technology puts more power in the hands of the "citizen journalist", the opportunity for this type of action is better than ever.

Why break it up geographically? What if you had countries that were based on culture and values rather than geography. A country called Tokyo could exist and any urban area in Japan that identified with the concept of "Tokyo" could join it instead of some regional entity. City people in say Chiba City probably have more in common with the people in Tokyo than they do with those in the country side a few kilometers away from them. Sure the map would be pretty weird but it would really work great for the urban areas. They could share the spoils and would not longer have to support the hyper inefficient farm subsidies and insane construction projects in country backwaters.

What is my point? What I want to say is that Japan is a collective, people in the cities do not really want to stop pork barrel politics. Pork is the only thing keeping some rural areas afloat. The regions are unique but not enough to split the country apart. In fact, when Japan was not yet a country and was composed of mutiple feudal states, things did not work that well which is why the country was united in the first place.

This kind of purely theoretical discussion is a lot of fun to think about but since it is so far from ever being reality, please take what I have written with a large chunk of salt.

I believe Suzuki is just the tip of the iceberg and most of the LDP and probably a fair number of others are corrupt in some shape or form. The reasons for this are numerous as Japanese politics is far from an ideal democratic system, but I would just like to use this as an opportunity to outline my pet peeve about Japanese politics.

The Japanese electoral system is systematically flawed due to the way it combines single-seat plurality electorates and proportional representation. This has given the largest party an easily defensible position until now as the LDP wins most rural electorates (heavily weighted as Joi mentioned) and the other parties to the left of the spectrum are forced to share urban votes, preventing the emergence of a truly dominant second party. This division of the left is compounded by the proportional representation portion giving seats to parties that would otherwise fade into obscurity, taking more support away from any party with the potential to challenge the LDP.
Recently, the Democratic Party has shown some progress, but as long as a substantial number of votes are going to other parties such as the Communist Party and Socialist Party, it will be difficult for the Democratic Party to reach the critical mass required to topple the LDP from its dominant position in this twisted electoral system.

The funny thing is that I believe the LDP currently actually has less people in the lower house than the Democratic Party of Japan, but thanks to their coalition with parties such as Komeito, they've managed to stay in power...
In Canada, our Prime Minister is also the leader of the party with control over our House of Commons; the leaders are elected in a leadership convention by members of their party, though, so it isn't quite so insular. There's also a general consensus that after the ruling party chooses a new leader, an election should be called fairly soon to give that person a mandate (or strike them down...).

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