Japan is mourning the loss of Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of this country who was shot dead on 8th July 2022. Shinzo Abe has been the longest-serving prime minister of Japan and has had a remarkable impact on the social, political, and economic aspects of this country (Katagiri, 2020). The sudden demise of Shinzo Abe has therefore created a void in the politics of Japan that may not be filled anytime soon. More or less, a similar kind of political uncertainty was observed when Shinzo Abe suddenly resigned from his post in 2020. This paper seeks to provide an evaluation of the research paper by Ichihara (2021) which explores the state of democracy in Japan after the resignation of Shinzo Abe.
Talking about the length and breadth of this report, the paper begins with a formal introduction to Japan’s political system, and how Shinzo Abe has been a formidable force in the politics of Japan. It further goes on to explain and describe the regime of Shinzo Abe and Japan after the sudden resignation of Abe from the post. While talking about the politics of Japan in general, this paper makes it ascertains that conservative ideologies have been at the center of the politics of Japan for all these years because which “Liberal Democratic Party” (LDP) is in power for over 60 years in the past 65 years of Japan. Despite that Japan has developed an independent political and bureaucratic system that ensured greater freedom and liberty for many decades. The paper then goes on to discuss the rise of Shino Abe in the politics of Japan and further compares his tenure to the US under Trump Presidency or Brazil under Bolsonaro Presidency to demonstrate how populists’ ideologies interfere with the democratic system. For example, this paper goes on to reflect on how Shinzo Abe used his nationalist ideology and vision to ‘break away from the postwar regime’ to gain greater control over the government and the political system. With this kind of monopoly, Abe reshaped many aspects of the political and democratic structures which are considered to be the soul of democracy. For example, the paper highlights the changes made in the appointment system, bureaucracy control, and media taming during Abe’s tenure which has weakened the roots of the democratic structure in this country. Earlier, Japan has an independent and self-perpetuating bureaucratic system in which bureaucrats were selected on the basis of merits and the Prime Minister had lesser influence and control over them. However, things changed quickly and Abe during his long tenure made several changes to this structure in an attempt to gain greater control over the bureaucracy. Besides, there were also interferences in judicial appointments which are now made by the Prime Minister himself instead of the justice department. With this evidence, the paper argues how Japan in the absence of a strong opposition has adopted a ‘bureaucratic cabinet system’ which often bypasses the parliamentary system of democracy and that the changes made over a period are of the nature that they violate the very idea of democratic government and control.
Moreover, the report also reflects on constitutional changes and amendments that were made to give Prime Minister more power and control over the government and bureaucracy. For example, extending the tenure of Prime Ministers is highlighted as a key concern for democracy. Although there has been no legislative binding on a number of terms a Prime Minister can have and it is conventionally determined through the constitution of political parties. Shinzo Abe, in his attempt to remain in power for more years, amended the constitution of the party which gave him the immunity to stay in power for more years. This is something that Ichihara (2021) finds as a threat to democracy and freedom because staying in power for such a long period gave Abe a kind of monopoly over government and bureaucracy which is definitely not a sign of a healthy democracy. However, Abe had to leave his intentions because of his worsening health condition and criticism of Covid-19 control.
Despite all the changes that gave Abe greater control over government and bureaucracy which often drew concern about the state of democracy in Japan, Shinzo Abe has always accepted the democratic system and had even called for it to address many of the problems that Japan faced. Even during the Covid-19 lockdown, no severe restriction on mobility occurred when the government proclaimed a national emergency, and there has been a greater emphasis on maintaining personal freedom and privacy among individuals which shows the general acceptance of democracy among Japanese people.
The question of Japan’s democratic outlook has, however, become much more significant after the resignation of Abe when Suga took charge as Prime Minister of this country. The statement in which Suga threatens its bureaucracy to face implications showing disagreement with his government further strengthens this concern. Moreover, the Suga administration has also blocked the appointment of 6 candidates to the ranks of “The Science Council of Japan” (SCJ) of worry that they might oppose government policies and lead anti-government movements. This approach of the current government is clearly not a healthy sign for preserving the space for opposition and freedom of expression and diverse opinions in the democratic system. This trend and approach of the Suga government resonate with many of the democracies where the state of democracy is of the questionable mark. For example, countries like the US under Donald Trump, Brazil under Bolsonaro, India under Narendra Modi, etc. are often led by right-wing populist and nationalist ideologies where there is minimal space for opposition and the government has a kind of authoritarian control over the democratic system and institutions (Lammers and Baldwin, 2020).
Besides, similar to the US under Trump and countries like India under Narendra Modi who are often regarded as a threat to the democratic system by many thinkers, misinformation and disinformation (Goswami, 2018); are also now becoming a major threat to the democratic safeguards of this country which is also concerning for the future of Japan. Hence, peering into a cloudy future, there are reasons to worry and the question of the state of Japan’s democratic outlook becomes more crucial than ever.
Goswami, M.P., 2018. Fake News and Cyber Propaganda: A study of manipulation and abuses on Social Media. Mediascape in 21st Century: Emerging Perspectives, pp.535-544.
Ichihara, M., 2021. Japanese Democracy After Shinzo Abe. Journal of Democracy, 32(1), pp.81-95.
Katagiri, N., 2020. Shinzo Abe's Indo-Pacific Strategy: Japan's recent achievement and future direction. Asian Security, 16(2), pp.179-200.
Lammers, J. and Baldwin, M., 2020. Make America gracious again: Collective nostalgia can increase and decrease support for right‐wing populist rhetoric. European Journal of Social Psychology, 50(5), pp.943-954.
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