Friday, September 9, 2011

A new samurai?

The biggest question in the minds of many in Japan about Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is not so much about the policies he will introduce as it is about how long he will last in office.

Such an unhealthy skepticism would have greeted anybody who assumed the leadership mantle today. The former finance minister was elected by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan last week to become the country’s sixth prime minister in five years. He replaced Naoto Kan, who resigned in August amid pressures that he was failing the nation for mishandling the devastating earthquake in March.

One indication that Noda’s term will be short-lived, like the fate of his five predecessors, is the narrow victory clinched in the runoff within the party’s election. Japanese politics is already divided as it is between those supporting the Liberal Party of Japan, which ruled the country for more than five decades, and the Democratic Party. And the deep factionalism within the Democratic Party will continue to haunt whoever is elected to lead and become prime minister.

Japan and the rest of the world will still have to give the benefit of the doubt to Noda, and give their full support in the hope that the nation will be able to resolve the multiple crises at hand and return to its former glory. It is sad to see that Japan is becoming the one of the few exceptions to an otherwise rapidly growing and developing Asia. Japan could and should be one of the leading nations in the region.

For the next foreseeable years, Japan is likely to be busy with domestic issues before it can play a role in Asia and the world. There is the handling of the reconstruction and rebuilding large areas destroyed by the March earthquake and tsunami. There is also the question of what to do with the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and how to resolve the current energy crisis.

On top of that, the new government must deal with restarting the Japanese economy. This last subject has been the one that dodged previous prime ministers and turned the office into a revolving door.

The immediate and long-term challenges are clear, and the solutions are also quite clear — especially when the options are limited. The failure of the nation all this time can only be pinned on Japan’s political leadership, or rather lack of it.

All the prime ministers are products of a Japanese democracy that may have been effective in rebuilding the nation after World War II, but this approach is now way past its use-by date. It’s a democracy that guarantees deep divisions and therefore political paralysis.

The biggest challenge for any Japanese prime minister today is not so much dealing with the problems facing the nation as it is in getting out of the political entrapments of democracy. Japan’s modern-day democracy may have to turn to old wisdom and tradition to produce leaders with true samurai spirit. The Jakarta Post

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