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Monday, Feb. 16, 2004

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Judging our parties by policy is the best policy


In the United States, it is the routine work of think tanks and business organizations to examine the voting behavior of each legislator.

In Britain, people assess the performance of political parties by looking at the number of promises they managed to fulfill in their manifestos.

Japanese political parties, however, were spared such assessments -- until the Keidanren released its policy assessment of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan on Jan. 28.

Keidanren has launched this assessment because it believes politicians must focus on policies to ensure Japan's revival.

Amid intensifying competition in an increasingly globalized economy, the rise and fall of nations will depend heavily on their systems and policies. Each Japanese company is making painful efforts to boost international competitiveness, but in terms of the systematic reform needed to make the most of corporate and individual effort, Japan is lagging the rest of the world and losing to its competitors.

To initiate a fundamental reform of Japan's economic structure, lawmakers and political parties must focus on executing policies, rather than merely focusing on election wins and a numbers game to maintain power. In addition to voluntary efforts by the parties to improve their policymakers' capabilities, the people and companies of this country need to support political parties in a proactive manner -- based on their policies. As part of such efforts, Keidanren is urging its member companies to financially support political parties by using its policy assessment as a yardstick. Donations offered in such a way will accelerate competition among political parties.

Our assessment reflects the viewpoint of the business community and is nothing absolute. In compiling it, we tried to ensure that the policies of the parties would be examined in a transparent manner and in ways that promote benefits to the Japanese economy as a whole.

According to our assessment, the LDP ranks far ahead of the DPJ. This is because LDP policies are roughly in line with Keidanren thought and because the party is trying to step up implementation of the reforms promised in November's general election.

DPJ policies also match Keidanren thought in some areas, such as deregulation and administrative reform, but we clearly disagree on others, including the environment and employment policy. In addition, the DPJ -- its position as the major opposition party notwithstanding -- also seems to be lacking a clear policy direction since the general election.

Full-scale reform has yet to occur in Japan, and "policy-oriented politics" must not end with mere slogans. Keidanren will release its second set of policy assessments by the middle of this year, and plans to do so twice annually in coming years. At the same time, we will urge various other stakeholders in politics to publicly assess the performance of political parties and to take action accordingly.

If we succeed at getting the "routine work" that is carried out by the U.S. and Britain adopted in this country, Japanese politics may reach a new plateau.

Yoshio Nakamura is a senior managing director of Nippon Keidanren.


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