DPJ fails to live up to its promises

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Before its general election landslide in August last year, members of Japan’s Democratic party often portrayed their nation’s quick turnover of cabinet members as an important symptom of political failure that left bureaucrats with undue influence over policy.

On Tuesday, almost half the DPJ’s Diet, or parliament, members backed an attempt to oust their prime minister just three months after voting him into power. The party’s first premier lasted less than nine months.

But the challenge against Naoto Kan, and the May resignation of his hapless predecessor Yukio Hatoyama, are not the only examples of the DPJ’s failure to live up to its promise to transform Japanese politics and government.

The party passed little legislation of consequence through the Diet even before it lost control of the legislature’s less powerful upper house in July.

Bold promises of action on carbon emissions remain unfulfilled.

The party seems as wracked by indecision on how to curb rising state debt as the long-ruling Liberal Democratic party was.

Yet the DPJ can claim some notable achievements. A key manifesto pledge to ease the financial burden on Japan’s often hard-pressed parents has been half-met by the monthly distribution of Y13,000 ($155) allowances for each child. Bureaucrats are under unprecedented pressure to publicly justify government spending.

In some areas of government – notably foreign affairs and transportation – ministers have followed through on promises of “leadership by politicians” by stamping a clearly personal mark on policy.

Whether such precedents really mark the beginning of the end for “government by bureaucrat” will depend in part on how long such ministers, and the DPJ itself, remain in office.

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