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Critic and philosopher Hiroki Azuma and journalist Daisuke Tsuda hosted political scientist Jiro Yamaguchi for a round table discussion. Over the past 25 years, Yamaguchi has been an advisor to minority parties with the hopes of establishing a two-party system in Japan. Of late, however, he has been more committed to citizen movements.
In explaining his reasons for this change, Yamaguchi refers to the failures of the Democratic Party administration formed in 2009. The Democratic Party succeeded in removing the Liberal Democratic Party from power for the first time in 15 years but could not enact structural reform in governance or politics. According to Yamaguchi, this was because they formed “no connection with society.” He became involved in social movements, inspired in part by the “precariat” movement of the late 2000s and the rise of demonstrations after the Great East Japan earthquake.
The Upper House elections in July 2016 reflected the culmination of Yamaguchi’s involvement in social movements. He led a coalition of citizen movements to block revisions to the constitution and called for a united front of opposition parties but could not achieve his goal of attaining a third of the seats in the House. Asked by Tsuda to explain this defeat, Yamaguchi replied that because they focused only on the constitution, the coalition failed to engage debate about policies closer to daily life.
Azuma agreed and introduced Yamaguchi’s critique of the Social Democratic Party of Japan in his book British Politics, Japanese Politics (Igirisu no seiji, Nihon no seiji, 1998). The failure of the party to consider the running of an administration and instead focusing solely on protecting the constitution is also true for the coalitions of citizen movements today. Yamaguchi was aware of this issue and explained that there was no choice but to submit to the polarization of left and right, instigated by the populism of the Abe administration. As a result, the movement became one dimensional and failed to become popular.
Yamaguchi and Azuma agree that another change in administration is necessary to break away from this situation. Yamaguchi argues that to accomplish this change, there must be a practice of choosing candidates according to their character instead of their ideology. This is because personal trust in the politician is crucial to politics, where members are asked to deal with unexpected situations.
In closing, the three agreed that after the Tokyo Olympics, 2021 will be the year that will provide the chance to change the political situation. In order to break from populism and recover policy debates in the 5 years ahead, preparations must begin now.