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Thread: Japanese Diet not bastion of free speech

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Thumbs down Japanese Diet not bastion of free speech

    Please read this interview with Taro Kono, a LDP member of the Lower House of the Diet since 1996.

    Asahi News : POINT OF VIEW / Taro Kono / Japan needs true debate in post-bubble era

    Quote Originally Posted by Asahi
    Since I first set foot on the Diet floor, however, I had never had a chance to speak at a plenary session (excluding heckling and other irregular remarks), until I took the floor on July 26 to ask about Group of Eight (G-8) discussions.

    Most of the other Liberal Democratic Party members of the Lower House who were elected for the first time in the 1996 poll have never been allowed to take the floor in a plenary session.

    Parliaments in other countries are often described as bastions of free speech. But there is no real debate in the Japanese Diet.

    The only time real debate happens is at rather unusual occasions of real political storm that take place once every 10 years or so, like the recent vote on the bills to privatize postal services.
    This is bad enough, but the worst is to come :

    Quote Originally Posted by Asahi
    There is no chance for individual lawmakers to voice their opinions before the votes.

    For the majority of bills that are approved unanimously or by a standing vote, each party declares in advance which way it will vote.

    The official records of votes show only the parties' advance declarations.

    In other words, if your party declares it will vote for a bill, you are officially recorded as having voted for the bill even if you didn't actually stand up during the standing vote.
    What is this system ? Can they call that democracy at all ? The current political system of representative democracy in most developed countries in the world is already only a dwarfed version of real democracy (where referendums should be held for all important issues), but this Japanese system is not even representative democracy. It is an oligarchy where a few party leaders decide for the whole party. Add to this that the LDP has ruled the Diet since in creation in 1958, and the Japanese system really appears like little more than a one party autocracy like in China.

    Let's carry on :

    Quote Originally Posted by Asahi
    There is no real debate on the pros and cons of bills even during committee sessions. Most of the time is devoted to opposition parties questioning ministers about the bills.

    In short, Japan's democratic process is not functioning.

    It is not merely in the parliament that democracy is dysfunctional in this country. That much is clear from the way leaflets are distributed by candidates during Japan's general elections.

    In these leaflets, the candidates make all kinds of sweet-sounding but vague campaign promises without mentioning anything about the necessary costs or financing: "I will create lively farming villages, ensure a rich old age for people, realize education that helps children develop their own individuality and build up infrastructures necessary for the local community," and so on.

    These catchphrases are all hollow and so eerily similar that it is hard to tell from them which party the candidate belongs to.
    ...
    They say nothing about how, as mere individual candidates, they will be able to honor all their election pledges if they are elected.

    Such shenanigans have long been part of the tradition of Japanese elections.

    Moreover, the number of leaflets candidates are allowed to distribute within their districts, under the Public Offices Election Law, is far smaller than the number of households actually in the districts.

    Candidates cannot distribute even the limited number of leaflets freely within their districts. They are allowed to give them only to people who come to their campaign offices or speeches.

    In other words, candidates can only distribute their election leaflets to the people who are most likely to vote for them.
    These are the words of a (visibly disgruntled) member of the Diet. I would also like to add that campaining politicians being forbidden to distribute leaflets or pamphlets to most of the population, or even to advertise through websites during the election period (!), their only recourse to reach people who don't go to their few public speeches, is to pass around neighbourhood in a van and shout their name in loudspeakers. Since they don't have time to express their political ideas, so they just say their name and "vote for me". This is mostly useless as they clearly annoy more people than attract their attention or interest.

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    They can still speak out to reporters, can't they? They have a different parliamentary system than the Anglo/American system, yes. But compared to so many countries where criticizing certain policies can result in imprisonment or death...
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  3. #3
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Legality ?
    How come no one sues the unconstitutional practices ?
    Or is Japan just a budding 3rd world nation ?

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    Economist in Residence lonesoullost3's Avatar
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    Much of this lack-of-debate in the Diet relates to the group and rank mentality of Japanese society. The Diet forms a group, a frame as Chie Nakane would call it in Japanese Society (the book is written in the 70s, but it is still drawn upon by present day scholars). Even though each individual is considered a Diet Member, it is merely a group title, not a status symbol within the group. The chairpersons of their respective parties have the most say because they are at the top of the group. In addition, they are also the leaders of their more intimate groups - their parties. After them comes the members who have been Diet members the longest. Therefore, following the group and rank mentality - it is quite understandable why the members elected for the first time in 1996 had no say whatsoever in debates. In fact, Chie Nakane points this out in his book:

    Quote Originally Posted by Chie Nakane
    Japanese scholars...never escape from the consciousness of the distinction between sempai and kōhai, even in the case of purely academic debates.
    Quote Originally Posted by Chie Nakane
    In particular, a junior takes every care to avoid any open confrontation with his superior...Even if there are others who share a negative opinion, it is unlikely that they will join together and openly express it, for the fear that this might jeopardize their position as desirable group members.
    Quote Originally Posted by Chie Nakane
    In a very delicate situation, those of an inferior status would not dare to laugh earlier or louder than their superiors, and most certainly would never offer opinions contradictory to those of their superiors. To this extent, ranking order not only regulates social behaviour but also curbs the open expression of thought.
    In this case, the new members to the Diet wish to remain "desirable group members" so that they may have the opportunity to rise in rank in the future and then be able to express their opinion. Therefore, they keep silent now even though they wish to speak.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chie Nakane
    At a group meeting a member should put forward an opinion in terms that are safe and advantageous to himself, rather than state a judgement in objective terms appropriate to the point at issue. This is why a junior member will rarely dare to speak up in the presence of his superior. Freedom to speak out in a group is determined by, as it were, the process of human relations within the group; in other words, it goes according to status in the group organization.

    The conciousness of ranking order among members of a group also distorts the modern formal procedure of a committee meeting. The chariman's authority and rights are easily overruled by a committee member whose place in the seniority system is higher than the chairman; at the same time, the chairman would not dare to put forward a decision without the consent of the most senior member of the committee [senior determined by length of group affiliation]....One of the most appropriate examples is offered by the Japanese Diet.
    This is why (or at least an attempt at an explanation of why) the chairman of the party is always "correct" and his policy his followed and voted for regardless of what individual members of lower status may think.
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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bramicus
    They can still speak out to reporters, can't they? They have a different parliamentary system than the Anglo/American system, yes. But compared to so many countries where criticizing certain policies can result in imprisonment or death...
    I don't see much point comparing Japan to some repressive developing country that it is not. We are talking about the world's second economic power, and maybe Asia's most democratic and developed country.

    Basically you are saying that the people of Japan do not have to fear political repression and enjoy a relative freedom of speech. Unfortunately this is not the issue that was raised here. It is not a question of whether ordinary people can express their opinion without fearing punishment. It is about lawmakers not being able to vote for the laws that are passed because their own party decides for them what they should vote.

    Not only is this not like the "Anglo-American" system, but it is not like any Western system, even in Eastern Europe nowadays (with countries like Romania that were repressive dictatures until 1990). Now, Japan is probably politically less democratic than countries like Romania or Turkey. It just does not appear so because Japan is not openly repressive (or it is self-repressive, as not publicly criticising the status quo is deeply ingrained in ordinary people's mind, thanks to Confucian ideals, such as the "tatemae vs honne" or "sempai vs kohai" mentality).

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    Economist in Residence lonesoullost3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    It just does not appear so because Japan is not openly repressive (or it is self-repressive, as not publicly criticising the status quo is deeply ingrained in ordinary people's mind, thanks to Confucian ideals, such as the "tatemae vs honne" or "sempai vs kohai" mentality).
    I completely agree with the self-repressive stance.

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    Is the seniority system or pork@barrel politics only in Japan?
    Never heard of it.

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    It is about lawmakers not being able to vote for the laws that are passed because their own party decides for them what they should vote.

    Not only is this not like the "Anglo-American" system, but it is not like any Western system, even in Eastern Europe nowadays (with countries like Romania that were repressive dictatures until 1990).
    Actually, the described situation reminds me of the German system. There is something called Fraktionszwang in the German Bundestag, which means that members of one party in parliament have to follow party line, IE they are not allowed to vote independently unless the chief whip (?) has given the go-ahead (which happens only in special cases).

    But unlike in Japan most party members are allowed to voice their opinion, even under Fraktionszwang. This can lead to the rather bizarre situation that a speaker in parliament decries a certain law, only to vote in favour of it some hours later.

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    Economist in Residence lonesoullost3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pipokun
    Is the seniority system or pork@barrel politics only in Japan?
    Never heard of it.
    Pork-barrell politics happen everywhere, especially America (it started in 1817 with John Calhoun). The seniority system is most pronounced in Japan (from my experience), though bossel makes it seem that Germany has a similar structure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Basically you are saying that the people of Japan do not have to fear political repression and enjoy a relative freedom of speech.
    No, I'm basically saying that different countries have different systems, and Japan is enough of a democracy that if they want to change their system they can, without fear of death or imprisonment for trying to.

  11. #11
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bramicus
    No, I'm basically saying that different countries have different systems, and Japan is enough of a democracy that if they want to change their system they can, without fear of death or imprisonment for trying to.
    I think you underestimate the power of the Confucianist system inculcated to every Japanese since their younger age. Personally, I cannot see how Confucianism can be reconciled with true democracy or freedom of speech.

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    So could you describe more about the true democracy or a true democratic country?

    I'm personally curious about the reason why some Europeans still stay idealists, thought the first J babyboomer, Dankai generation, became loyal salaryman after their defeat of idealistic political movement.

    Teach me, Master Maciamo

  13. #13
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pipokun
    So could you describe more about the true democracy or a true democratic country?
    True democracy is a system where anyone can freely express their opinion about politics or anything else. The government should listen to its people. As it is impossible in today's society for everybody to act as politcians, politicians are elected in a representative system. My idea of democracy is that politicians should do everything in their power to keep their electoral promise or be punished accordingly (this could include being banned from politics, be sentenced to heavy fines or even go to jail). The job of politician carries the responsability of executing the wish of thousands or millionsor people (depending on the size of the constituency), and therefore is one to be undertaken with the utmost serious, motivation and competence. People cannot be allowed to jeopardise a nation's future and well-being for lack one of those three values.

    Of course, a country's "democraticity" can be measured by the number of representatives (MP's) per inhabitants, the freedom of speech of representatives within their party, and obviously the general freedom of the population. In this respect, some European countries do enjoy a far greater democracy that countries like the USA (although it depends on the states) or Japan.

    For example, Japan's parliament is composed of 252 Councillors and 480 Representatives, so 732 MP's for a population 127 million (5.7 per 1 million inhabitants). In comparison, the UK has 1,377 MP's (now almost all elected since Blair's reform of the Lords) for 60 million inhabitants (22.9 per million inhabitants). That's over 4x more MP's per inhabitant. Add to this the 129 MP's of the Scottish Parliament, the 60 MP's of the National Assembly of Wales and the 108 MP's of Northern Ireland Assembly. Counting these, the UK has in fact 27.9 MP's per inhabiatnts.
    Belgium has 221 MP's for 10 million people, so about the same propotion as the UK. Add again the 3 states parliaments' MP's (75+124+89) and Belgium has actually 50.9 MP's per million inhabitants, or 9x more than Japan !

    Furthermore, democratic countries should ask people's opinion on important or potentially dividing issues through referendums. Lately, it has dawned on me though that referendums are not always in the best interest of the people, because a sizeable portion of ordianary citizens tend to lack the necessary knowledge to take sensible decisions. This highly depends on the issues at stake. If it is a matter of simple rights (as opposed to complex legislations) with little consequence for the the country (e.g. gay marriage), then referendums are ok. Only the people interested in the issue will vote anyhow. When it comes to complicated and sensitive economic decision such as joining the euro, referendums are not always good because most voters do not have enough specialised knowledge.

    In any case, I think that politicians should at least listen to the opinion of the population by reading suggestion submitted on specialised forums, think tanks, emails, petitions, etc. In many democratic countries, lawmakers are obliged to discuss some of those suggestions if a petition has the required minimum number of signatures (usually a few hundreds or thousands).

    It is also important for democratic government to protect individual liberties and the rights of minorities in society.

    Some of Japan's worst deficiencies in matter of democracy are its election system (namely, politicians are not allowed to advertise their ideas in written form), the fact that politicians are not free to vote differently from their party or voice their opinion anytime they want, the lack of freedom of press regarding politics, the too large number of politicians per capita, and the lack of referendums.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Jul 31, 2005 at 23:01.

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    Thanks so much for the info.

    Do you have any ideas why the ideal political system is producing far-right parties?

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    I'm going to do my best to have an intellectual discussion minus the drama. I hope you will all do the same.

    It is true that the LDP was of course, since its creation as a political force in 1955, ruling the Diet and was in power more or less since then. Yes, in its early years, there were documents recently discovered which linked the LDP's constant years in power to US aid to the party in order to keep Japan as much to the right as possible during the Cold War era.

    But as we can see, the LDP is still a party with many factions and personalistic politics. Rather than factionalize around a certain wing or group, the LDP factions are based on personalities and not their political beliefs or affiliations.

    The Diet is the most democratic parliament in the world? No. There are many other countries where parliament is more democratic than Japan. But comparing to China? No. IF you speak out against the government in China, you will be arrested, imprisoned, put to work in one of those rural work camps, and possibly executed. I don't recall seeing this in Japan.

    So while there is a lot of room for improvement in all parties, Japan is not an undemocratic nation which executes people for their free speech and beliefs.

  16. #16
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pipokun
    Do you have any ideas why the ideal political system is producing far-right parties?
    Do you mean Japan's LDP or are you talking about some other particular countries ? Far right parties are not necessarily bad in themselves; it depends how they behave and what they say. In Europe, some far-right parties are much more benign than others. Some are racist, others are not. Some are violent, but most are not. Some are anti-globalisation, others are not. Some EU far-right parties are anti-EU, but others are not. It's very difficult to determine what far-right parties share in common. In fact, the very concept of left and right, or even liberlism, socialism and conservatism can vary enormously from one country to another. In the North America, liberls are on the left, but in Europe they are usually on the right.

  17. #17
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hiroshi66
    The Diet is the most democratic parliament in the world? No. There are many other countries where parliament is more democratic than Japan. But comparing to China? No. IF you speak out against the government in China, you will be arrested, imprisoned, put to work in one of those rural work camps, and possibly executed. I don't recall seeing this in Japan.
    There is no point arguing about something that you misread. I compared the freedom of Japanese politicians in the parliament with that of China, but you are talking about the freedom of speech of ordinary people, not the country's rulers. Obviously Japan does not repress its people violently like China would. But if you look at how decision are taken within the parliament, i.e. between politicians themselves, there is a striking similarity between Japan and China, possibly due to the Confucianist way of thinking. The party leaders decide for the rest of the party, and junior members have little to say. China officially only has one party, but it is divided in numerous factions. Japan has had one main ruling party in the last 50 years, also divided in numerous factions. So in theory Japan is a democracy as there is more than one party allowed and politicians are elected, but in fact there is only one ruling party and its politicians are chosen by the party itself and must follow the decisions of the party leaders. That is why in reality, there is not so much difference between Japan and China's parliamentary system (NB : this is not the same as the general freedom ordinary people enjoy).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Do you mean Japan's LDP or are you talking about some other particular countries ? Far right parties are not necessarily bad in themselves; it depends how they behave and what they say. In Europe, some far-right parties are much more benign than others. Some are racist, others are not. Some are violent, but most are not. Some are anti-globalisation, others are not. Some EU far-right parties are anti-EU, but others are not. It's very difficult to determine what far-right parties share in common. In fact, the very concept of left and right, or even liberlism, socialism and conservatism can vary enormously from one country to another. In the North America, liberls are on the left, but in Europe they are usually on the right.
    Just change the word from European far right parties to the LDP in your post...
    I don't know why you don't say anything about the politics within the ruling LDP, the only ruling party.
    If you're an ignorant person without knowing anything about Japan at all, I understand the situation. But you're lucky enought to have your enlighted J wife, living in Japan and always asking political questions to your hundreds of J friends/co-workers, right?
    Tell me a bit about the general differences between the Hashimoto faction and the Mori one onto PR China and Taiwan.

    I'm personally more interested in the reason why Japanese chose more political stability, even after lots of corruptions.

  19. #19
    wishing for a girlfriend Xkavar's Avatar
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    Hey guys. Long time no see.


    Here's my take: government will always take the form of the people. Take a look at Japanese citizens in general. All the people, all students in my university who are straight from Japan, will accept an authority's position rather than criticize it. They don't like to argue with me in class. They don't like to correct other people except when it concerns their culture.

    It takes years of immersion for those students to be comfortable enough to start questioning ideas and speaking up. Years spent in a culture that actively praises individual thought and opinion. I've seen that by the time a Japanese student graduates, he or she will be more willing to act like an American than they were at the start of their education.

    So it's hardly surprising to me that the Japanese Diet would be run like this. I always wondered how democracy as Americans understand it would work there, honestly.

    My two cents.


    EDIT:

    The Diet is the most democratic parliament in the world? No. There are many other countries where parliament is more democratic than Japan. But comparing to China? No. IF you speak out against the government in China, you will be arrested, imprisoned, put to work in one of those rural work camps, and possibly executed. I don't recall seeing this in Japan.

    So while there is a lot of room for improvement in all parties, Japan is not an undemocratic nation which executes people for their free speech and beliefs.

    1. China does have some democracy, in that as I understand it the Premier is selected by a group of executives with a vote. The voting takes place behind closed doors and the general public does not have a say in anything, which is why everyone thinks it's a ruling dictatorship.

    2. Individual rights. Now there's a good subject for debate. I think that if you come from a country that places more emphasis on group, caste or social behavior instead of individual behaviour, you're going to look like you have less "rights" than somewhere where individual behaviour is cherished.

    My mom was on a European trip when she was younger, and she was asked about living in the U.S. by a guy from Yugoslavia, which was under pretty repressive rule at the time. She asked him how he could live in a place where he couldn't question his leaders, and he replied that his leaders knew what they were doing. They would never steer him wrong, because they were his leaders. He didn't have to think about what he needed to do, because he could follow an authority.

    He asked how my mother could live in the U.S., where there were no constant leaders. How could my mother stand the anarchy? Wasn't she afraid of not having anyone to follow, of not having anyone know what to do all the time?

  20. #20
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Welcome back, Xkavar !
    Nice post about gov't taking after the people.
    But wouldn't you think after 60 yrs of US influence AND free access to information, that the people might have become more comfortable with the idea of progress thru conflict ?
    What do you think would have held them for for so long after the rebuilding of Japanese society in a new wine sack

  21. #21
    wishing for a girlfriend Xkavar's Avatar
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    Nice post about gov't taking after the people.
    But wouldn't you think after 60 yrs of US influence AND free access to information, that the people might have become more comfortable with the idea of progress thru conflict ?
    Not necessarily and not always. First of all, in my experience, you're typically influenced by the things that are closest to you. That's usually family and friends. And if your family and friends are believers in the senior/junior relationship, if your dad's final opinion outweighs everyone else's in the household, then you're probably going to grow up with that same mentality. I don't think you would be likely to embrace the American point of view of politics or family life or much U.S. influence, honestly.

    Secondly, you've got to be realistic in geopolitics. For example, if you're the U.S., with three months' of water protecting your borders in every direction, it's easy and all to say that the world should succumb to democracy. But if you're Japan, not much more than 200 miles (if that) from a mainland superpower who likes ruling its own way, and you're leading a population that is firmly anti-war, you've got to make some compromises about what your worldviews can be.

    What do you think would have held them for for so long after the rebuilding of Japanese society in a new wine sack
    But I'm not a poly sci major. I've never lived over there. There are members here who are much more qualified to answer that question.

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    Your country has "the Stars and Stripes", don't you?
    As long as you all share the banner, she stays the United States of America, I guess.

  23. #23
    wishing for a girlfriend Xkavar's Avatar
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    Flags mean less than the people holding them. ;)

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    Maciano, thanks for the link. Interesting.

    Though it sounds pretty extreme when you read it, I have to say that it is not that different from european democracies. I will use Denmark as an example, because I live there

    Here every member of parliament are obliged to vote according to their own convictions. However, as in most democracies, this is only in theory. In reality, they have to vote as their parties say, or they will be excluded which means that they most likely will not be reelected. In some cases they may be allowed to vote as they choose, but in more important matters, the party decides. The problem is not just a japanese one, but a general problem with democracy.

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