Japan: Koizumi wins but how long will his euphoria last?

The Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi has gained an unexpected overwhelming victory in the elections on Sunday 11 September.

He has received a large majority having fought an election campaign in favour of postal privatisation. This was largely a single issue election. But in Japan, nothing is what it seems. Koizumi has presented his own party, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power for almost fifty years, as the party of reform and change. Anybody who opposed postal privatisation was pictured as a conservative and defender of the status quo. The more liberal reform party the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was dismissed as a party from the past. Yet Postal privatisation is not going to solve any of the real problems and will open new conflicts and struggles between the classes in Japan.

This victory will also have international repercussions in that Koizumi has raised the issue of changing the constitution to allow Japanese troops to be sent on non-peace keeping missions. This is an indication of the heightened conflicts that are developing between the Chinese regime and Japanese capitalism in the region.

It might seem a huge victory for de LDP which now has 296 seats in the Lower House, the biggest majority since 1986. But it is not really a victory of the LDP; it was largely Koizumi’s personal and media victory. He has received a “vote for change”, with a higher than usual turnout because of the deep-rooted feeling among Japanese that something must change in society. Japan is beset with problems of long term economic stagnation, rising costs in health care, pension problems, unemployment or partial employment, the aging of the population, colossal state debt, the rise of China, the troops in Iraq amongst others. Koizumi was able to exploit people’s feelings on these issues in a very clever way. He was able to exploit the mood for change and win votes as a “reformer” because of the lack of any alternative which could challenge his rhetoric.

However, this huge parliamentary majority and vote at this election will not settle the problems facing Japanese capitalism. On the contrary, the government, by introducing privatisation of the post and other sectors of the economy, will run into opposition from the working class once it becomes clear what these policies will mean in practice.

The laws concerning Postal privatisation will go through parliament unhindered, also in the Upper House that voted them down on August 8th, which was the reason why Koizumi called for new elections. The privatisation process will start in October 2007 and will be completed in 2017! Koizumi will not even see the beginning of it all. He is allowed to continue as president of the LDP and as prime minister beyond September 2006.

According to the existing rules of the LDP he cannot be re-elected. The LDP will of course be left with its huge majority but the euphoria of the present elections has already started to fade. Postal privatisation has been postponed for half a year because of computer problems and Koizumi is on his way to the General Assembly of the UN. When he comes back there will be no victory parades: the other imperialist powers (especially China) are not ready for Japan to have a seat on the Security Council.

Beyond postal privatisation, which is bad enough as workers in Europe and other continents have already experienced can tell, there is no policy or programme which can resolve the problems facing Japanese capitalism. The opposition also completely lacked a programme. The DPJ was against privatisation but only in its present form. It promised better relations with China, but that left the internal agenda unaddressed. It also spoke of the need to raise taxes.

Koizumi must say what comes next, as the Asahi newspaper wrote. And; "If the policy-making process and makeup of the party ends up betraying voters’ expectations, the LDP will one day find itself on the receiving end of voters’ anger." True and the only remaining bits of Koizumi’s policy agenda are cutting public expenditure, cutting the number of civil servants and their pay. What will become clear between now and September 2006 and what will become clear under a new party leader afterwards is enough to sink the LDP forever. What counts is not the present election, but the one after. Theatre and image have won the day. Perhaps Koizumi’s wisest step of all is to step down soon, before the rot sets in too much. The opposition has shown itself to be completely toothless. The so-called Socialist and Communist Parties are in parliament with a miserable number of seats (7 & 9). A new workers’ party that fights for a genuine socialist alternative is urgently needed. Building it should begin now and not after the next elections.

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