INFA Column 


Prof. M.L. Sondhi
August 12, 1976

After covering a distance of two decades the road is now running downhill for the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.  The underlying political basis for the grotesque irony of the Lockheed Scandal can be found in the erosion of the sense of community of the conservative groups which came together under the leadership of Kishi Nobusuko in 1957.  The flaws in the functioning of the LDP can today be seen as pathological conditions for which mere managerial policies cannot provide an effective prophylaxis.

The fragmentation of the Opposition in Japan, however, ensures that the Japanese Communist Party, the Democratic Socialist Party, the Komeito, the Japan Socialist Party or other anti-LDP forces feel a paranoid hostility towards each other which prevents them from developing a common attitude towards their principal political enemy. A certain sophistication has been noticeable in the post-Lockheed Opposition politics but a cooperative framework of Opposition policy is nowhere evident.

The Japanese Opposition has often dreamed of the Utopia of a non-LDP ruling coalition.  The urgent and desperate situation resulting from the factional struggle in the LDP has been extraordinarily ineffective as a means of achieving opposition unity.  The case of Mr. Temomi Narita the Socialist Chairman is highly ambiguous.  His rhetoric of opposition unity has not helped him to tackle the real problem of harmonizing the divergent ideological goals of the different leaders of the opposition parties.  In short, the Opposition projects disintegrating dynamic processes at a time when the Lockheed holocaust has destroyed the integrative relationships of the conservative groups embodied in the LDP.

The Japanese Opposition has undoubtedly helped to provide a focus for creating a new climate of political morality.  The burden of political and economic decision-making remains with the LDP, while the Opposition leaders continue to talk of “revolutionary changes”.  Basic to the understanding of the “twilight” situation between faction-fighting and consolidation is the question of the Shiina-Miki relationship.  The far-reaching initiative of the veteran LDP leader Etsusaburo Shiina known as the “oust Miki Campaign”  acquired a new and additional dimension when Prime Minister Takeo Miki demonstrated that he enjoyed vast public support in his resolve for a thorough investigation of the Lockheed scandal.

By giving top priority to the unveiling of the guilty men within the LDP, Miki prevented the success of Shiina’s ploy to consolidate a formidable combination of Fukuda-Ohira-Tanaka factions.  The minority base of Miki is a crucial question-mark which stands against attempts on his own to stimulate the democratic vitality of the anaemic LDP.  In this process therefore a total split is ruled out.  The mediation effort of Hirokishi Nadao was an effort to overcome the obstacles to a restoration of close links between Miki and Shiina.  Thus there are many sub-plots in the great drama of the intra-party struggle in the LDP.

Any effort in crystal gazing the future of the LDP must look at both the personality changes and the pattern of modification of the Japanese political system.  The spectre hanging over Tanaka is no temporary phenomenon.  We can expect the 100 peanuts signed by a Murubeni executive on August 9, 1975 for Lockheed to exercise their baleful influence.  We cannot now predict how many Japanese politicians will find themselves in declining positions as the pollution from the Lockheed payoff scandal is detected.  It is more relevant to explore the dilemmas the Lockheed affair has created for up and coming leaders like the redoubtable Mr. Yasuniro Nakasone.

The dilemma facing the LDP and the Japanese political system is illustrated by the critical situation in which Nakasone finds himself.  This is a leader who had maintained dynamic equilibrium between the effort for the renewal of the ideology and organization of the LDP and the need to maintain a sense of continuity of conservative parliamentarism.  It is the lack of new leadership for the transition period that bedevils the LDP.  In the face of heavy odds the party may eventually turn to a leader like the Foreign Minister Kiichi Miyazawa to save its declining reputation.  Extreme polarization within the party will, however, necessitate much higher political skill than was needed in 1964 when Disaku Sato and Hayato Ikeda were pitted against each other and nearly rent the LDP as under:

In trying to acquire “moral power” by his forthright stand in establishing the Lockheed guilt Mr. Miki has gambled on his quick success in Japan’s house-cleaning operations.  It is easy to list many reasons why Mr. Miki can now be acknowledged as a national symbol of Clean Japan.  Another list can show a formidable array of Mr. Miki’s anxieties and likely disillusionments.  He is determined not to step down but politically he is still at the cross-roads.  His cultivation of friendly relations has yielded him allies in Big Business, the Media and the Japan Communist Party.

The long-range outlook is not very cheerful for Mr. Miki.  He is faced with the problem of the time element.  In order to be capable of leading his party to an electoral victory, he has to speedily achieve a new factional power balance which would provide a realistic image of the party to the nation.  His political strategy faces the test of time and he must hope for luck that the climate of morality will not destroy what remains of the LDP consensus, between the so-called “clean” and “unclean” factions.

The phrase “malaise of democracy” has been used with increasing frequency in Japan.  The tangled and confused clash of factional opinion in the LDP has increased the suspicion of the general public that the ruling party is not in a position to develop the pluralist democracy of Japan on healthy lines.  Japan’s industrial society has achieved far-reaching scientific, technical and economic development.  Despite this the political efforts in the Japanese community are still limited to manoeuvers and ideological battles of a narrowly based democracy.  The debate on the future of democracy in Japan was not enriched by those who suggest that archaic patterns of behaviour should be substituted by “American” or “Western” solutions.  As Claude Julien explains in his book “Suicide of the Democracies” Western Democracies have not got beyond a pseudo-dialogue between voters and candidates, and have only created a political class which is “coming to be less and less considered as the mandatory of the sovereign people”.

In meeting the demands of a modern industrial society, if Japan does not move to a more broadly based democracy, will an embittered public turn to authoritarian methods?  The crisis of adaptation of the Japanese political system has been perceived by adherents of both the right and the left.  A spokesman of the Soka Gakkai, a religious body which supports the Komeito (Clean Government), party in this connection underlines the flaws in the Japanese system:

“This means that we note dangerous currents leading towards fascism in the trends of modern society, rather than points to any specific forces.  It is said that “inflation is a hotbed of fascism”.  The Japanese Archipelago is now in the grip of long-term chronic inflation.  Absorption of individuals in a “managed society” is also a symptom of these current…the Soka Gakkai would like to prevent a facist crisis by sublimating both right and left.”

There will be a long-run optimism for Japanese democracy if the present crisis leads to the rise of a new political culture which combines the outstanding importance of public opinion with ethical behaviour which leads to the humanization of Japanese politics.

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