Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"New Japanese Government Means Old Bureaucrats Afflict Hatoyama"

This is interesting. Given how our own government is a revolving door of senior officials, scholar "mandarins" and other entrenched interests, it begs a similar question of how well any political party (other than the PAP) could function (much less rule effectively) were they actually to take power in Singapore.

Winning elections is one thing. Governing effectively despite the bureaucracy is another. We shall see how robust Japan's democracy actually is.

From Bloomberg News
By Stuart Biggs and Sachiko Sakamaki

Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Incoming Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama plans to wrest power from Japan’s bureaucracy starting when his parliament convenes today. His own party, which has never governed, may prove his biggest obstacle. 

Novice lawmakers will be up against civil servants who control much of policymaking, from approving construction projects to bestowing government aid, said Steven R. Reed, a political science professor at Chuo University in Tokyo. During 50 years of single-party rule, the opposition wasn’t given information that would allow effective oversight, he said. 

“Opposition politicians haven’t known what’s going on,” Reed said in an interview. “Even for an American congressman there are things like, where is the bathroom, what’s the first step for submitting a bill. Those kinds of things are real, but there are more of them in Japan. Bureaucratic power comes from expertise, secrecy and time.” 

The freshman legislators’ inexperience will make it harder to create a government that is more independent of what Hatoyama has called Japan’s triangle of special-interest groups: bureaucrats, politicians and industries such as construction. He says he will send 100 lawmakers into the ministries to cut personnel expenses by 20 percent and free up cash for policies including raising child benefits and eliminating highway tolls. 

Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan won 308 seats in Aug. 30 elections. Almost half went to first-time legislators and only 12 to lawmakers who have served in a cabinet. Their average age is 48, compared with 55 for the Liberal Democratic Party, which has four ex-prime ministers and four former finance chiefs among its 119 lower-house members. 

More Bonds 

London-based Barclays Plc and New York-based Morgan Stanley say that DPJ plans to increase spending on child care and employment while lowering corporate and gasoline taxes and eliminating tolls may force the government to issue more bonds. 

Yields on Japan’s benchmark 10-year bond are likely to rise to 1.39 percent by the end of the year from 1.31 percent, according to a Bloomberg News survey of economists and analysts that puts a heavier weighting on more recent forecasts. 

The elections brought to the Diet such new faces as Hirotaka Matsuoka, 27, the body’s youngest member. His experience is as a “company employee,” according to the DPJ Web site. The next-youngest, Katsuhito Yokokume, 28, worked as a lawyer for two years. 

“Not having experience also means that the ruling party is free of constraints, and that is a strength,” Yokokume said in a telephone interview. 

Matsuoka declined an interview request, citing time limitations while preparing to take office. 

Only on Winning 

“These young people don’t know anything about parliament,” said Hirohisa Fujii, a DPJ lawmaker asked by Hatoyama, 62, to postpone retirement and run again, at the age of 77, to add experience to the ticket. “Many of them only focused on winning the race.” 

The DPJ is pitting itself against Japan’s main source of stimulus since its bubble economy burst two decades ago. Government spending on dams, roads and bridges was 4.4 percent of gross domestic product last year as the LDP drove public debt to almost twice GDP or $175,000 for every Japanese household. 

“It’s going to be an enormous challenge,” said Takako Ebata, 49, a DPJ freshman who defeated former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike. “It’s not something politicians can accomplish on their own. The question is how many bureaucrats agree and cooperate with us.” 

Democratic Party leaders know they need experienced people in key positions, said Fujii, a former LDP lawmaker who was finance minister in 1993. The Nikkei newspaper reported yesterday that he will get the post again. 

Budget Decisions 

The DPJ’s Naoto Kan, 62, a former health minister, will head a new National Strategy Bureau responsible for budget decisions. Ichiro Ozawa, 67, who formerly held the No. 2 position in the LDP, is the party’s secretary general. Makiko Tanaka is an ex-foreign minister. 

The DPJ’s coalition partner chiefs are also getting cabinet posts. People’s New Party leader Shizuka Kamei, 72, a former construction minister for the LDP, is the minister for financial services. Social Democrat leader Mizuho Fukushima, 53, will be the consumer affairs minister, the Nikkei newspaper said. 

The LDP pushed the inexperience theme before the election, arguing the DPJ’s campaign pledges would cost more than forecast. Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who led the LDP to a landslide victory in 2005, said during an Aug. 17 rally that he looked forward to watching the DPJ fail. 

The DPJ’s lawmakers have focused on specific areas of policy as professionals or in opposition more than their LDP counterparts, helping offset any disadvantage they may face negotiating with bureaucrats, Chuo University’s Reed said. 

Shinsuke Amiya, 51, is a former Merrill Lynch & Co. vice chairman in Japan. Takatane Kiuchi, 43, worked at Merrill and the brokerage units of Deutsche Bank AG and UBS AG. 

Still, many lawmakers will be in a similar position to Ebata this week. She will walk into the Diet building for only the third time in her life, after a sixth-grade school visit and last year with other DPJ candidates. 

“There are so many old customs and I’m honestly wondering how much I can achieve as a newcomer,” she said. “But people elected me out of their strong desire for me to change things.”

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