Saturday 14 October 2017

Japanese Politics in Flux (Part 1): The Communist Party as the Conscience of the Nation

Walking around the neighbourhood it is common to see political parties' posters (left) stuck to the walls of local houses, even during non-election times. With campaigning now under way for the October 22nd general election, such posters have become even more visible. Some of the most noticeable posters are from the JCP or Japanese Communist Party (Kyōsantō=共産党), the most successful non-ruling Communist Party in the world. Indeed, in recent years it has enjoyed something of a resurgence, with a sharp increase in young members  in particular. For example, in a 2015 article entitled "Red Revival", the Economist described how the party had become the strongest political opposition at the local level; a 2016 Japan Times article described the party as "riding high" as it became the second-largest opposition party in the Diet. In the upcoming election only the ruling LDP boasts more candidates. Its power stems from a solid grassroots support base and a remarkably high and steady income (see graph).
Changes in Income of Major Political Parties (2008-2013)

Soviet-art style JCP "Protect Article 9" poster
Recently, the Abe administration has come under heavy fire thanks to various scandals centering on the abuse of power together with accusations of arrogance and high-handedness; July's Tokyo Assembly Election results marked a historic defeat for the LDP. The Communist Party has emerged as the only viable opposition, mostly due to the fact that it actually stands for something: it steadfastly sticks to its opposition to the security treaty between Japan and the US (AMPO) and its support for the pacifist Article 9 in Japan's constitution (see poster right). This also makes it unelectable, of course, but it revels in its under-dog role in checking excessive government power. Peter Berton in The Japanese Communist Party: Permanent Opposition but Moral Compass calls it "the conscience of the nation."

What of the other opposition parties? The Socialist Party (now Social Democratic Party), which was previously the largest opposition party, fell apart after entering government in the mid-1990s and being forced to renounce its core principle of opposition to AMPO/Article 9 (like the JCP); the DPJ=Democratic Party of Japan (later just Democratic Party) became the main opposition thereafter but lost any credibility after a disastrous period of government from 2009 to 2012 (it finally imploded altogether a few weeks ago). In sum, the fact that today in Japan there is no opposition that could viably form a government is rather worrying and raises serious questions about the nature of democracy in the country. Of course, this may all change with Tokyo Governor Koike's recently announced new party - the subject of the next post.