Going to a summer school in Korea, I heard a lot about the social movement in Korea that brought to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-Hye. After news outlets reported on the particular relationship the president had with one of her close friends, Choi Soon-Sil, people started protesting on the streets, calling for the president to step down. A few months later, the National Assembly send a motion of impeachment to the Constitutional Court, which, in the end, agreed on one issue and impeached the president. 60 days later, Korea had a new president.
There were many issues behind Park Geun-Hye’s impeachment: sharing classified information with a non-official, not reacting to a ferry sinking, etc. I would like to say that what is going in Japan right now might be far worse. I only know part of the stories because I did not take the time to look at everything. Here are 2 important cases:
- Obstruction of justice: a young female reporter was raped by a senior journalist. She mustered courage, went to the police station, filed a complaint, even though the police officer told her “Are you sure you want to do that? It could ruin your life” (hello sexist society). In the end, the Police gathered evidence. There were medical evidence, surveillance camera recordings, the taxi driver’s deposition, etc. Police officers finally got a mandate to arrest the journalist. They decided to arrest him at the airport, as he was coming back to Japan. But at the last minute, the officers got a call: stop everything. The call came from above. Interests were at stake. They had to step down. The victim ended up organizing a press conference, showing her face to the nation, and explaining what happened. For the moment, nothing has happened. Why? Because the incriminated journalist has direct links with powerful people, among whom very possibly the Prime Minister, our beloved Abe.
- Corruption, conflict of interests: there are now 2 schools under scrutiny in Japan. One is a primary school (Moritomo Gakuen) and a university (Kake Gakuen). Both of them are under suspicion of having benefited from special treatment from the current government. Telling the whole story would be long. In three words: money, power and friendships. The two stories brought many things to the surface. One of them is the implication of the Ministry of Education and its bureaucrats in the process, with pressure coming from the Cabinet. One bureaucrat has stepped down and is now talking freely in media outlets. I hope he won’t “commit suicide” in the upcoming months. Things happen, right?
And all of this is without talking about the influence of a far-right (cultish) group called Nippon Kaigi, the former Defense Minister saying that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were supporting the majority, eroding freedom of press, expression and association, remilitarization (even though the majority of the population is against it), etc. There must be some articles in English out there, I will try to find a few links. But those stories, which are just the emerged part of the iceberg (as we say in French), show that the Prime Minister and its party are using personal power, money and networks to govern. It is simply not acceptable.
Nevertheless, Japan (as Korea, from what I understood) has powerful conservative mass media. The national broadcasting station NHK is informing citizens about what the government deem important or right. You have a sensitive discussion at the Parliament and don’t want your constituents to know about it? Broadcast sumo instead, should be fine. You have a former official who spills important information showing the government is shady? Ask a conservative newspaper to discredit him. You have massive demonstration against your policies? Let media outlet know that they should cover the issue in a favorable manner. If they don’t want to: call them, pressure them, threaten them. It simple and efficient.
If you look at what is happening in front of the Parliament and on social media, you would be able to see how civil society is trying to organize itself to criticize and counter the government. Lawyers, professors, experts, students are active. Normal citizens are going out and protest with creative signs. But they are simply ignored, also because mass media let them be ignored. Many of my Japanese friends don’t have an opinion about those issues because they don’t even know. It was shocking to me, but it seems to be a pretty normal pattern. Politics is not something that people talk about casually. If you talk about it, you look like a political fanatic or a scary “leftist”. There is no space for debate, somehow. And the government is smartly using this social situation to advance its agenda without being hindered. How nice is that, right? Recent polls have shown that Japanese people’s understanding of democracy is about output (social welfare, fairness…) more than input (freedom of speech, elections, etc.). Most people are certainly concerned about their everyday lives and how to improve it. Political freedom and agency? Not that important. It is really reminding me of Freedom for Sale, a terrifying book written by Kampfner, showing that economic growth and material comfort is often more important than freedom and democracy. This case is sadly illustrating his thesis.
Now that I look at how Korean people were able to take down the president in a strong presidential system, I wonder even more about why Japanese people don’t seem to be able to get rid of their Prime Minister. PMs can be replaced and should be replaced when their support rate declines. Abe doesn’t even have 50% of support in the polls held by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper. But he’s not stepping down. People are on the street. But he’s not stepping down. And these days I am really curious to know why it’s not happening, when it should be much easier than in the Korean context. If anyone has a good explanation, please let me know. Until then, I will try to avoid falling in despair and attempt to find some hope, somewhere, somehow.