News / Asia

Japan Contemplates Leadership Woes Amid Various Crises

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan gestures upon his arrival for a cabinet meeting on environment and energy at Kan's official residence in Tokyo, June 22, 2011
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan gestures upon his arrival for a cabinet meeting on environment and energy at Kan's official residence in Tokyo, June 22, 2011

Japan's beleaguered prime minister, already in political jeopardy when a huge earthquake and tsunami hit the country four months ago, says the nuclear crisis facing the country will not
compel him to dissolve the lower house of parliament, which would force a national election. It is the latest rebuff by Naoto Kan to those insisting he quickly resign. The standoff between the prime minister and his opponents is raising broader questions about whether Japan’s consensus-building political culture can address the country’s serious challenges.

Unpopular leader

Prime Minister Naoto Kan continues to frustrate many politicians in his own Democratic Party. The 64-year-old unpopular leader has said he will hand over power to a younger
generation, but he has repeatedly resisted indicating when that will occur.

Former Vice Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka is among those who have lost patience with him.

"I wouldn't like to see Prime Minister Kan prolong. He said he would go. Please go. It's not a question to be debated," Tanaka said.

Popular graphic novel writer Kenshi Hirokane laments that even though he is the same age and from the same neighborhood as Kan, he also desires his speedy exit.

Hirokane says the prime minister does not have a clear vision to share with the Japanese people, and no longer has a political support base or many followers.

New vision

Tanaka and Hirokane spoke at a news conference to discuss a new book, Reimagining Japan. Created by the global management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, more than 80 leaders and experts contributed essays to the book about how to bring about a Japanese renaissance following the disaster four months ago. Much of the discussion at the forum centered on political leadership.

There is growing frustration with the revolving door of weak Japanese prime ministers. Kan's successor will be the fifth prime minister in five years.

This frustrates policy makers and many citizens who say it prevents Japan from effectively dealing with serious matters like persistent economic malaise, formulating foreign policy and security issues, including the rise of China. They also say the country needs to focus
on rebuilding the region devastated by the March 11 natural disaster and the resulting meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture.

Strong, stable leadership

Former top bureaucrat Tanaka says Japan needs the type of stability and strong leadership it last enjoyed under Junichiro Koizumi, who served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006.

"Do we see any candidate who is comparable to Prime Minister Koizumi's leadership? The answer is no," Tanaka said. "Therefore what we need to be doing is the creating of a system in which we can pursue much stronger, correct policies."

And the only way to do that, Tanaka argues, is for the two major political parties -- which he contends have no major policy differences -- to work together. Such a grand coalition was even proposed by Prime Minister Kan following the March 11 disaster. But the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (which is actually right of center) rejected it. Some political analysts argue that a fresh leader from the Democratic Party may be more persuasive in the months
ahead.

Status quo

McKinsey's Global Managing Director Dominic Barton finds the status quo baffling.

"The issues are clear. We don't need more white papers and so forth. It's why does change not occur? And I don't know why the Japanese people put up with that," Barton said.

Hirokane believes he has the answer to Barton's question.

He says the concept of leadership in Japan is not well-defined, partly because neither Japanese top management nor political leadership is selected by direct election. That is why Japanese prime ministers are changing so frequently. He explains they are too conscious of making mistakes, so they do not take risks as they know if they err they will have to resign right away. Thus the leadership style tends to be bottom up and full of consensus-building, rather than top down.

That worked well in the last half of the 20th century when Japan managed to recover from its devastating defeat in World War II to become a global technological leader.

Needed change

Influential columnist Waichi Sekiguchi of the mass circulation Nikkei business daily says the political system that fostered the renaissance cannot work any longer.

"In the past when the economy was growing well maybe the bottom-up system worked well in this country," noted Sekiguchi. "But now technology trends or society changes very quickly so the top leader will have the new direction immediately. So that kind of new leadership is really needed in this country."

But some observers are cautious, such as Hirokane, whose award-winning comic books frequently take a critical stance on contemporary Japanese society. He and others say the Japanese people really do not want strong leaders. They recall the tragedy of the early 20th century when powerful military and political figures put Japan on a course toward disaster.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs