Contested Governance & Values in Contemporary Japanese Politics

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Lam, Peng Er
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• Main axis of political contestation in postwar Japan is not between “Western” and “Asian values” but the struggle for the constitutional “soul” of Japan --- embracing or rejecting the pacifistic constitution (with the famous and unique war-renouncing Article 9). • Another emerging axis: the political cleavage between the center (Tokyo) & the periphery (e.g. Osaka): between the centralized Meiji warfare state/ postwar pacifist welfare state & a looser federated Japan coalescing around 9 regional blocs. • This is not to say that Asian political scientists (e.g. Chan Heng Chee) have not noted the remarkable resilience of Japan’s LDP one-party dominance at the national level (1955-2009 [except 1993]; 2012 --) as being similar to other Asian perennial one-party rule in Malaysia, Singapore & Taiwan. • T.J. Pempel: Japan is an “uncommon democracy” without alternation of power between major political parties. However, Japan’s one-party dominance collapsed in 2009  possibility of a “2-party plus” system. But is Japan a more common democracy today? • Rightwing nationalist Ishihara Shintaro has also made common cause with former Malaysian PM Mahathir by co-writing a book “Asia that can say no”. • However, some Japanese would situate their country as a member of the “West” during the Cold War (US-Japan Alliance) and a member of the G8 today. • Tokyo: advocates “democratization” as an important consideration when it disburses Official Development Assistance to poor developing countries. • PM Abe Shinzo: advocated a quadrangular alliance of democracies (Japan, US, Australia & India) presumably against authoritarian China. Central argument: Japanese governance & politics are marked by profound continuity despite significant change in values, party system & governance. Some of these political changes are universal but the unending contest for the constitutional soul of postwar Japan is uniquely Japanese.
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