Courtesy Reuters

Shattering Tokyo's Politics to Save Japan

The DPJ Has One Viable Option: Self-Destruct

It was supposed to be the start of a revolution -- almost exactly two years ago, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) formally took power in Tokyo. The sclerotic Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had run Japan for more than half a century, had clearly run out of ideas. Since 1990, it had elected and then promptly discarded no fewer than 12 prime ministers. After its landslide electoral victory in 2009, a fresh party in power promised new thinking and a new era of stability by establishing a true two-party system. Many even argued that Tokyo could use the moment to emerge from its torpor and keep the world's then second-largest economy from becoming a global has-been.

That revolution never happened. The DPJ has effectively squandered its time in office. It has already discarded two prime ministers of its own: Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan. Core campaign promises such as transferring power from the entrenched bureaucrats to elected officials have been abandoned, along with many of its ambitious welfare programs. As Japan reeled from the March earthquake, tsunami, and ensuing nuclear disaster, rather than tend to the massive crisis, the DPJ preoccupied itself with infighting, squabbling over campaign promises and how to dethrone the unpopular and antagonistic Kan. Lest one need proof of the costs of this stasis: Witness the astonishingly glacial pace of reconstruction and a more inward-looking nation that is increasingly inert on global matters. 

No wonder Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who took office on September 2, argued that this is the "last chance" for the DPJ to regain the trust of its constituents. Yet he may be too late. Having served only nine days in office, Yoshio Hachiro, the industry minister, resigned after referring to the evacuated areas near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as a "town of death"; he later joked to reporters about the radioactivity. He was replaced by Yukio Edano, formerly the chief cabinet secretary. 

Hachiro's comments may have been insensitive, but the overblown reaction points to one

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