To the Economist reporter who wrote this, the politics in Japan today is the same as how it has existed for near-eternity - nothing but backroom bargaining between the ruling party and the opposition, occasionally enlivened by a vocal upstart (like the boy-wonder mayor of Osaka City), with the ignorant mass nervously looking in from outside to see what lot the power that be may have in store for them.
From The Economist (6/16/2012):
The unlikely Mr Noda
The prime minister has most foes on his own side
Jun 16th 2012 | TOKYO | from the print edition
UNLIKE Japan’s half-dozen recent prime ministers, many of whom were privileged offspring of earlier statesmen born for high office, Yoshihiko Noda last year came into the post unexpectedly. Despite that, and though his term may be no longer than theirs, Mr Noda is showing unexpected leadership. He may accomplish more than his recent predecessors combined.
His aim is to set an ageing, shrinking society back on course, after it was shaken by the disasters of last year. He is guided by the conviction that he must salvage the public finances, by doubling the consumption (sales) tax to 10%. The problem is that his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) promised, during the election campaign that led to it overturning five decades of rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2009, not to raise taxes. Mr Noda is seen as a traitor by those who stand by the campaign promises.
Worse, Mr Noda has courted powerful bureaucrats and the LDP-led opposition that controls the upper house of the Diet (parliament). In other words, he governs as LDP prime ministers used to. People in both camps find that hard to take. But most in the LDP know that the public would treat their party with even greater disdain if it now opposed a tax it was the first to promote. Both camps also fear the maverick mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, who is contemplating the launch of a national anti-establishment movement. In effect, he is pushing the LDP into bed with Mr Noda.
The opposition and government now seem set to do a deal to raise the tax in stages in 2014 and 2015. Then, in a Diet session extended by perhaps a month, they will try to decide how to spend the ¥13.5 trillion ($175 billion) it will raise each year. Under LDP pressure, Mr Noda is also backtracking from the more unworkable campaign promises on pensions, child care and help for the poor.
The prime minister is also staking his reputation on a second belief, that Japan needs to restart some of its nuclear reactors to prevent the economy being crippled by energy shortages. (All 54 of them were shut down, at a time of high anti-nuclear feeling, following the Fukushima disaster.) Here, too, Mr Noda is co-operating with the LDP: an independent nuclear regulator is likely to be proposed soon. That will give him some cover to announce the restarting of the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, which powers the Kansai industrial region of which Osaka is the heart.
But what happens after that? Mr Noda seems safe from internal opposition for the moment. His chief foe within the party is Ichiro Ozawa, who has cast a longer political shadow over the past two decades than anyone. But Mr Ozawa’s fortunes fell this week when it emerged that his wife had written to his closest supporters about his two mistresses and his illegitimate child but, more crucially, had berated her husband for taking months to visit the disaster-affected areas of Iwate, his home prefecture.
The public standing of the prime minister’s other foe, Mr Hashimoto, may have also peaked. The combative mayor is now having to make compromises that undermine his outsider status. He is backing away from a fervently anti-nuclear stance and he needs to mollify politicians in Tokyo to get their backing for sweeping administrative changes in Osaka. Local spending cuts are also harming his popularity.
Back in Tokyo, some members of the opposition think that they can do business right through till next summer with the best prime minister the LDP never had. In effect, a kind of “grand coalition”, long favoured by the elites but always rejected by voters, would be at work. Mr Noda may prefer to see his twin aims passed into law and then call a snap election. On current form, he would lose. But it is when Mr Noda seems to care least about his own survival—and perhaps his party’s—that he is most effective.