New Year's Greeting from Yasushi KudoThe Genron NPO's Aims and Aspirations for 2013

January 01, 2013

By YASUSHI KUDO, Representative of the Genron NPO

Happy New Year, and thank you all for your continued understanding and support of the Genron NPO's activities.

The new year has just begun. My goal for this year is to significantly heighten the influence of the Genron NPO, as I am convinced it is imperative for our organization to become much stronger in order to drive Japan forward into the future.

The two reasons for my thinking are as follows:


First, the power of sound public opinion is crucial to Japanese society. By public opinion, I mean opinion that is responsible for shaping society, not just popular sentiment. In Japan today, there is no serious argument of this kind and instead, demagogic voices that inflate the people's disquiet have been gaining momentum. In the last general election, new political parties were created one after the other, generating a populist tendency in Japanese politics and stirring public concerns on issues of the economy, social security and national security.

Indeed, there have been increasing popular concerns in our society over the excessive dependence on nuclear power, creeping financial breakdown and the rise of China as a military power, among others. However, I do not think it is the role of political parties to take a rabble-rousing approach by fueling public concerns. Rather, they should address the pending issues of the nation head-on and present tangible solutions for them.

Regrettably, most political parties propose populist measures, the Japanese media reports the comments of these rabble-rousers and, in a vicious cycle, their irresponsible statements attract public attention. History shows such tendency to be quite dangerous.

In order to turn back this political tide, Japan definitely needs a venue for serious public debate to counter the prevailing atmosphere with a powerful presence and influence. And, the venue for such discussion must be made visible to the Japanese public. This is why I consider it necessary for the Genron NPO to reinforce its organizational strength.

The second reason is that the Japanese voters' conscious deeds are indispensable if we are to change Japan. By conscious deeds, I mean not only the selection of representatives in elections but also the tackling of societal tasks as citizens of Japan. What matters is our mind-set as stakeholders in dealing with this country's challenges and not just leaving the job up to the government and politics.

To put it differently, this country could change fundamentally if voters changed their mind-set. And, in order to generate such tangible change, I believe that the role of the Genron NPO is becoming increasingly important. Since September last year, the Genron NPO has been collecting signatories for a petition that reads "We do not give carte blanche to politicians."

So far, about 2,000 people have signed. The number of signatories is small, but what merits attention is that Japan's representative intellectuals are beginning to join our signature drive, especially since the general election last December. I think this is because many people have come to recognize that this country's politics won't change unless the mind-set of its voters changes. In this regard, last year's general election has left us with some important lessons.

In the general election, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan suffered a crushing defeat and consequently, the Liberal Democratic Party scored a sweeping triumph and returned to power. New political parties, dubbed "the third forces," were not able to become the agents of change. Alarmingly, voter turnout hit a postwar low.

In my opinion, the outcome of the general election meant two things.

First, political parties in Japan are finding it hard to win the trust of the public, never mind competing to solve the problems of the future. The reason why the Liberal Democratic Party was favored by voters this time was not because of the excellence of its policies but because its stability exceeded that of the other parties.

The second is that, while voters rendered severe judgments on political parties that broke their policy pledges, they could not find a party they could entrust with solving the problems Japan faces.

The fact that the political parties themselves could not change this situation was quite obvious from a glimpse of their manifestos or election pledges.

Worse yet, Japanese political parties are neither able to explain to voters the seriousness of the country's fiscal crisis or the near-bankruptcy of the social security system, nor are they able to create an intraparty consensus on measures to solve these problems. During the election campaign, many political parties uttered only sweet and brave words without substance.

Nonetheless, I believe that change in Japan has certainly started.

The Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 made many voters strongly feel the need to firmly face politics in order to protect their lives by themselves. Many citizens visited the disaster-stricken areas to extend support and help to local residents struggling to recover from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant accident. I am convinced that these conscious actions of the citizens may someday develop into a major impetus for the future of Japan, in which citizens will come to confront the nation's politics squarely and subjectively.

I must emphasize the fact that the Genron NPO is Japan's sole organizer of grass-roots activities aimed at creating voter-led politics from a non-partisan standpoint. Thus, it is especially at this critical junction that we must fulfill this role of helping create a voter-driven strong democracy.

For this purpose, we must strengthen the influence of the Genron NPO. This year, there are many tasks the Genron NPO must address. In July, we will have an election for the Upper House. In this election, we must question the ability of Japanese political parties to solve the problems we face.

Another important challenge for us is to facilitate dialogue as a key player in Track II diplomacy in the private sector and improve the friction-ridden relations with China, South Korea and other Asian countries.

Lastly, the most important task for the Genron NPO is to prompt Japanese voters, or citizens, to seriously consider the plight of our country and launch discussions in preparation for diverse actions to usher in a new future for Japan.

In order to make the non-profit, independent and non-partisan platform of public debate function properly in this country, the Genron NPO must develop into a more influential organization with a stronger sense of presence. For that purpose, we must strengthen the organizational capability of the Genron NPO while making our presence known more widely as Japan's sole non-profit, independent and non-partisan think tank, and I am determined to tackle these challenges from the outset of this new year.