Fachgruppesitzung  Politik 2014

The first part of this year’s meeting of the politics section was dedicated to a roundtable on „Back in Office. Politics and Policies during the Abe II Government.“ Professor emeritus John C. Campbell (University of Michigan/University of Tokyo) and Associate Professor Kuniaki Nemoto (Waseda University) delivered input statements, which were followed by a lively discussion.

Nemoto opened his statement by referring to the upcoming (2014/12/14) Lower House election, predicting that it was „going to be really boring.“ Despite the many downsides of the second Abe administration being obvious (e.g. slow GDP growth, delay of consumption tax-hike), Nemoto pointed to the fact that the government was framing the election as a midterm referendum. He rated the chances for a change in government as low, because 1) the opposition was too weak and fragmented, 2) there were no signs of coordination among opposition parties and 3) the LDP could always rely on the loyal supporters from its Komeito coalition partner. In conclusion Nemoto predicted that the LDP, while possible losing some seats, would still win the election and maintain its single-party majority.

Campbell on the other hand thought the elections would be anything but boring. He turned his attention to the question of why Abe had been so popular in the first place. Campbell claimed that Abe’s popularity did not stem from the issues he stands for, such as the consumption tax hike/delay, the introduction of security-related bills, the constitutional reinterpretation, the restarting of the nuclear power plants, and deregulations in the labor market etc.; in fact polls showed that 50% to 60% of the voters disagreed with him on these issues. Campbell thus argued that it must be Abe’s image respectively his persona that made him so popular – e.g. the fact that he appeared decisive and actually had a political program that he was willing to follow through; plus he apparently had made some good cabinet appointments. Campbell claimed these factors allowed Abe to better control the government, and to be more systematic and successful as prime minister. He rated Abe as capable of strong leadership.

The subsequent open-floor discussion focused mainly on two issues, namely the reason for Abe’s popularity and the reason for calling a snap election at that particular time. First, it was argued that Abe would probably win the upcoming election simply because there was no alternative, i.e. none of the opposition parties seemed strong enough to act as a serious contender. In this context, the role of the media, i.e. the idea that Abe seemed popular as the media discourse had shifted in his favor, was discussed. Moreover, it was pointed out that his policies, while not popular among the wider population, found strong and vocal supporter in the business world. Also, Abe seemed to be showing strong leadership by tackling issues and making decisions (while avoiding certain topics at the same time), even if they were unpopular. In sum, the reasons for Abe’s popularity appeared as not based on any single issue but rather on the cumulative range of issues – as each policy/issue drew different voters. For example, „Abenomics“ was popular as it gave the people a message of hope after the dismal performance of the DPJ government, assuring people that there will be an affluent future ahead. The one generally popular policy of PM Abe, which was referred to was „Womenomics“ – a program that had already been addressed under PM Koizumi to some extent, but Abe seemed to be pushing it with more fervor. Last but not least, the idea that Abe’s popularity was a result of the triple disaster of 3/11 – with people subsequently seeking security in the old system – was debated.

Following the policy issues, the timing of the election (two years prior to the regular schedule) was discussed. While the participants agreed on the prediction that the LDP would lose votes, the fact that the opposition parties were too many and too fragmented to actually harm the LDP was raised again. In fact, the previous election of December 2012 had already shown that the LDP could be unpopular but still win the elections. Another reason for the 2014 snap election was Abe ‘s expectation that the economy would do badly in the future and that voters would punish his party for that weak performance sooner or later. Thus, it seemed the better strategy was to condone the loss of some votes in December 2014, and have a longer overall governing period as somewhat of a shield to gain popularity again. The discussion then turned to the question of which other candidate/s would be able to stand up against Abe, but the new parties appeared too populist and most of the opposition parties too fragmented. Also participants speculated that the LDP would probably lose votes due to a drop in the already low turn-out rate; the dissatisfied floating voters, however, were not seen likely to support the DPJ again as the party had not yet regained people’s trust.

In the second part of the meeting of the politics section, two ongoing research projects as well as a new research tool were being introduced. First, Inger M. Bachmann (University of Hamburg, PhD Candidate) provided insights into her PhD project entitled „Promoting Senior Citizen’s Engagement: Tokyo’s Urban Model for and Aging Society“. The projects asks how selected special wards within the Tokyo nijûsanku proceed to create the best possible environment for senior citizens with regards to social participation and civic engagement, which stand in accordance with the checklist provided by the Age-friendly Cities Guide of the World Health Organization. Based on this checklist, Bachmann developed indicators to measure the degree of age-friendliness in three different Tokyo wards, namely Shinjuku, Suginami, and Sumida, which differ in size, household income and demographic structure. Bachmann’s analysis is based on by Elinor Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework and its underlying assumption that that social problems can be addressed more effectively and more efficiently on a smaller, local level instead of relying on large decision centers that provide solutions on a bigger scale with less regard to specific local conditions. Bachmann’s initial results indicate that there are differences between the three wards when it comes to their age-friendliness: e.g. Suginami shows low participation rate of elderly and regards the mobilization of senior citizens as problematic. Sumida relies on traditional ideas and on the „home-grown spirit“ of collaboration that prevails in Shitamachi areas. Shinjuku has a rather young senior group but the highest percentage of elderly living alone. The discussion of this project focused on the question of whether the implementation of a formal policy, i.e. the Age-friendly Cities Guide, was necessary to replace more informal systems that might already be in place. With regard to Bachman’s methodological approach, questions on her choice of groups of senior citizens came up, as it seems that small (organized) groups are often not very effective in connecting with the government (and addressing policy issues), but do well when it comes to organizing local/personal activities. Thus, the extent of the differences between local government action and these groups might lie in the differing choices the actors make as well as in-group differences based on additional aspects, such as budget, age distribution within the group etc.

The second presentation by Momoyo Hüstebeck (University of Duisburg-Essen, Postdoctoral Fellow) asked to what extent civil society was able to exert a sustainable influence on state decisions by comparing two democracies in East Asian, namely Japan and South Korea („Civil Society Being Left Out By Representative Democracy? State-Society Relations in Japan and Korea“). Hüstebeck argued that the characteristic features of civil society groups are different in Japan and South Korea. While she identified South Korean civil society as robust, active and predominantly acting in opposition toward the state, she characterized Japanese civil society as state dominated and relatively toothless tigers. Despite these different modes of activism, both countries’ civil societies seem to be weak, and hardly able to influence governments’ policy-making processes. Hüstebeck reasoned that this was due to common aspects in Japan’s and South Korean polity: Both have a similar state structure (strong states), an exclusive national elite circle (with a lack of access to politics for civil groups) and weak party systems. The discussion of this project first focused on the question of whether South Korean civil society activism, while undoubtedly strong during the democratization period of the 1980s and 1990s, could still be regarded as a success story when compared to the Japanese case. Then, the debate called for attention to the question of whether the concept of a well-developed and politically influential civil society was not in fact a too normative approach.

The last presentation by Christian Oberländer (University of Halle-Wittenberg, Professor) entitled „Untersuchung japanischer politischer Online Diskurse – ein Methodenversuch zur ‚digitalen Öffentlichkeit‘“ gave an introduction to a new research tool, which can be used to analyze large bodies of text. The tool, developed by Oberländer and his team, can be used for data mining, finding themes, lumping similar keywords and for showing changes in the use of words over time in the texts under study. Oberländer briefly explained how the software worked based on the case study of the term „Cesium contaminated Beef (CCB)“ in Japan after 3/11. The software is available for free. Once data lists are complied, researchers can use a web browser to work with the data as required. The compilation work takes about a week and is limited to sites that Oberländer’s team has access to. The discussion mainly dealt with practical application issues such as the need for the researcher to get in touch with the team so as to specify parameters and to hand over the data (which needs to be downloaded) in order for it to be fed into the database.

Tarina Greyling (University of Duisburg-Essen)
Kerstin Lukner (University of Duisburg-Essen)
Gabriele Vogt (Hamburg University)