In ancient times (pre-August 2009) hideous beasts stalked the halls of the Diet. Called the zoku giin, they had the faces of human beings but hearts that would beat only for the bureaucrats of a particular ministry. The zoku giin, in their roving bands, would strike down, gut or otherwise harass any legislation that threatened the interests of their particular beloved ministry. It was to flush the zoku giin from their lair and break their insidious hold on national policy that the populace in 2009 elected to power a brand new party, one that desird only to chastise and humiliate the bureaucrats.
Now this is a fable, and as with all fables there are exaggerations. The horrid zoku giin of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were not simple automata responding to the will of the ministries they favored. Each legislator had a multiplicity of competing loyalties – to his or her faction, to his or her constituents, to his or her political support group (koenkai), to his or her fellow college alumni, ad nauseum – pulling and tugging at the heart of the individual. Bureaucrats could never be sure, no matter how much they sought to curry favor with a particular legislator, whether or not that legislator would be able to deliver on what the ministry wanted.
Yet is not a fable that the people in 2009 did toss out the LDP and handed power to the Democratic Party of Japan with the goal in part of wiping out the zoku giin-bureaucrat relationship – a relationship that in the eyes of many had led to the sacrifice of the national good in favor of the interests of a particular ministry, over and over again.
Switch now to today. By all accounts, the DPJ has come to terms with the LDP and the New Komeito on the passage of the legislation Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said must pass before he will hand over the reins of power to the next generation of politicians. This means that very soon, sometime within the next three weeks, Kan will resign as leader of the DPJ and the party will elect a new leader.
Why lovers of ancient history and delicious irony should be in ecstasy and the rest of us should be concerned is that the candidates for the position of leader of the DPJ seem to be running not as the leaders of particular groups within the party (that is to say, along factional lines) or as representatives of particular part of the country (regionalism or urban vs. rural candidacies) or even as the purveyors of a particular ruling philosophy, articles published in their names in monthly magazines notwithstanding.
Instead, the candidates for the leadership of the DPJ seem to running as paid-in and sold out representatives of a particular ministry. Noda Yoshihiko, the current Minister of Finance, is running on a ticket of balancing the national budget through increases in the consumption tax and fiscal restraint – i.e., Ministry of Finance fundamentalism. Not surprisingly, Noda is also advocating greater role for bureaucrats in governance than was the case under the premiership of Hatoyama Yukio and is the case under Kan. Mabuchi Sumio, late of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, cannot find a tax increase he cannot hate nor a spending program, seemingly, he cannot like. Suddenly making the rounds is Kano Michihiko, the member of the government who spiked Kan’s plan for Japan to start talks on joining the Trans Pacific Partnership. Not surprising, since Kano is the sitting Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Also among the otherwise undeclared but certain to be running is Maehara Seiji, who through his recent travels and quotable quotes has pretty much set himself up as the candidate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. Kaieda Banri, if he can compose himself, could easily mount a challenge as the candidate of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Now it used to be in the bad old days of the bad old LDP that a candidate for the leadership of the party had to have held a number of ministerial posts, including one of the Big Four (Finance, Foreign Affairs, MITI and Chief Cabinet Secretary) under his belt before he could be considered prime ministerial material. A candidate therefore would have had to have dealt with and represented the interests of a series of ministries, ones with often diametrically opposed agendas, before he would be even considered a candidate to sit in the prime minister's chair.
Consider our present situation in these, the shiny good new days. The DPJ has been in power for only a brief period. The candidates who are stepping into the shark tank of the DPJ leadership race have served as the heads of but a single ministry, or for a very brief period at two. Many are stepping directly out of a current ministerial position, without any cooling off period. If the zoku giin and the drag they purportedly put on national policy making were "bad," bad enough that the whole LDP had to be put out to pasture, what the heck should be the adjective used to describe a direct clash between what are for all intents and purposes champions of the ministries themselves, this within the walls of a party that is supposedly at its core "anti-bureaucrat"?