Monday, September 14, 2009

Voters' verdict

Japan's democracy has frequently been described as immature, its citizens as apatheticand uninterested in politics. What does it mean when a considerable number of the Japanese electorate does not vote? I hear various excuses: "The state of politics is awful," "There is no one worth voting for," "Nothing will change no matter which party I vote for," and so on. For the latest Lower House election, however, things were a little different. There was a relatively high voter turnout (69.27 percent), which showed that authentic democracy has taken root.

Many people went to the ballot box this time to register their disagreement with the government's socio-economic policy. The way that message came across so clearly was amazing: the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was left with 119 seats — the lowest in the party's history. On the other hand, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won an unprecedented 308 seats in the House of Representatives, and took over the reins of government which were long held by the LDP-New Komeito coalition. Many influential politicians in these parties suffered a humiliating defeat. The ones who somehow managed to retain their seats couldn't even show their contentment. "I have mixed feelings about the good news, because many of my fellow candidates lost. It's not the time to celebrate my victory. For the LDP as a whole, it's a critical moment," Kunio Hatoyama, the LDP candidate of Fukuoka constituency No. 6 said lamentably, when the news of his victory was announced on NHK.

At last individuals have become angry. I think the result mirrors their sense of crisis and their feeling that if things stay as they are, Japan will sink. For the last decade, all that we have seen from Japanese politicians and bureaucrats were nonsense conflicts for socio-political power and an outrageous waste of valuable public assets, which were in sharp contrast to the painstaking struggle for existence by a growing number of ordinary citizens.

LDP and New Komeito politicians — the biggest losers in this election — must accept the voters' verdict and reflect upon their mistakes. When they look carefully at the situation, they are no doubt reminded of those French politicians who, unaware of the simmering rage of the people, indulged themselves in luxuries on the eve of the French Revolution. Comte de Salvandy (1795 - 1856), a French writer of the time, satirically observed, "They're dancing on a volcano." It's obvious that lawmakers who fail to look up to their voters are short-sightedand very likely to fall. I deeply believe the power of ordinary citizens is rooted in Mother Earth herself. Come hell or high water, they have the tenacious ability to survive, just like weeds.

To change the attitude of selfish leaders, ordinary citizens must step up to the challenge. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, "Leaders only change because they either see the light or feel the heat." Indeed on August 30, Japanese leaders have finally felt the heat from "boiling" voters, and they must now light the torch of humanism to bring about great changes in the socio-economic spectrum.

By Joel Assogba Shukan ST: SEPTEMBER 18, 2009 (Published in Japan Times ST)

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