Short-living Japanese prime ministers

How many prime ministers has Britain had for the past 30 years since 1980? The answer is easy: it’s five including Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron. Guess how many PMs has Japan had for the same period. In case you don’t know (which I doubt that you do as I didn’t) it’s seventeen. Yes, one-seven. So, one prime minister on average lasted less than two years in Japan while in the UK it was six years per PM.

This may give the impression that Japan is much more politically unstable than Britain. That could have been the case if all these prime ministers had been changed because of social unrest such as assasinations and civil wars. On the contrary Japan seems to have the least numbers of political demonstrations, violent or peaceful, among the industrialised countries.

What is going on? Why does Japan change prime ministers so often? There is an interesting article on this subject in a blog section of the Economist magazine: click here to read it. If you have any problem about having access to the section, please let me know.

The article says that one of the reasons for Japan’s prime ministers’ being so short-living is the “powerful press” who are so hostile to prime ministers. Never mind what party is in the government.

The current prime minister, Naoto Kan, is criticised for lack of leadership. He is described as hen-pecking to bureaucrats and the United States. Also, the media ridiculed him for being timid to Ichiro Ozawa who is said by media to be elf-righteous, corrupt, a power-hungry political operator, “shadow shogun”etc. By the time I have posted this piece, Mr Kan might turn out to be “brave” enough to sack Mr Ozawa. Mr Ozawa is a member of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Mr Kan.

If you wish to know more about how bad Ozawa is said to be, click here to read a Newsweek piece. Do you want to know more about how weak Prime Minister Kan is said to be? Click here to read another piece in Newsweek.

Is Ichiro Ozawa in fact as bad and corrupt as the media say he is? Is the current prime minister as weak and timid as he is described to be in newspaper articles and TV programmes? According to opinion polls, the answers would have to be Yes to both. People do seem to have very nagative pictures on Kan and Ozawa, particularly the latter. How do they know? Well, they do know all these bad things out of the media reports.

Then, are the media reports accurate and trustworthy? I am not quite sure about that. The only thing I do know is that all the Japanese newspapers and TV programmes seem to be hostile to any powerful politicians. They seem to believe that they are promoting democracy by presenting any politicians as stupid and corrupt. But powerfull and hostile-to-politicians press is not Japanese monopoly. Britain, too, has powerful media, so does America. What’s wrong with the Japanese press being hostile to politicians including prime ministers?

Nothing wrong if (only if) the media themselves are free from conformism. That is the problem about Japanese media: they all say same things. Major daily newspapers are very similar to each other for their attitudes to politics. Politicians are either stupid or corrupt. Bureaucrats are elitish, arrogant and selfish.

It also seems peculiarly Japanese that all the media report only about what the government says and does, ignoring what opposition parties are saying. Up until last year Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had been in the government for 60 years. So, newspapers only wrote bad things about this party without presenting views of opposition parties. People read many negative articles about the government and no article about oppositions. Not even negative articles on the opposition parties.

Government is always stupid no matter what they do, according to the Japanese press. So, look at opinion polls and you will find that support for the government is always low. But popularity of opposition parties is even lower than the government party: they are simply non-existent to the public. People tend to think that they only have stupid and corrupt government with no alternatives. This naturally makes people feel cynical to politics.

In Britain while you read a lot of critical pieces about David Cameron in the Guardian and the Independent newspapers you can find positive pieces in the Telegraph and the Times newspapers. The Guardian carries not just critical pieces about Cameron but also positive articles about Ed Milliband. [21/12/2010]

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One Response to Short-living Japanese prime ministers

  1. Dominic says:

    Thank you. Although 4 years old it’s still relevant to today!

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