Both major parties, the LDP and the DPJ, prepared detailed election programs for the 2009 lower house election. Such “manifestos” were introduced by the DPJ in the 2003 lower house election, and they represent a growing tendency to draw closer connections between parties, their policy propositions, and their candidates. Previously, elections had very much been based on personalities, candidates’ electoral networks, and pork-barrel spending aimed at supporting and maintaining such networks. Despite shortcomings in the actual programs identified, the overall positive contribution of these manifestos to Japan’s political process should not be underestimated. As for the 2009 programs, the DPJ was rather clear in its priorities, distinguishing between five major pledges, five major principles and five major policies, for instance. It provided a clear distinction between superior objectives, subordinate objectives and related policy measures. The DPJ even attached specific cost estimates and deadlines to its proposals. However, it is a major weakness in this process that it remains unclear how the various costly schemes are to be realized during Japan’s post-crisis period of economic hardship and severe fiscal strain. Some of the measures appear overly simplistic, such as the promise to find “hidden treasures” in the existing budget, or to effectively diminish the role of bureaucrats through a number of formal changes. There are also a number of obvious contradictions, such as the inherent conflict between the populist promise to eliminate highway tolls and the need for fiscal restraint and environmental incentives. Some controversial issues are not mentioned at all, like the DPJ´s stance toward the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. The LDP´s “promise” (yakusoku) was considerably less specific in comparison. For instance, it did not as clearly distinguish between principles, overarching goals, subordinate goals and instruments. Information about individual policy proposals’ cost and timeline was much more vague, an issue that has long been subject to criticism. To be fair, it should be noted that the evident specificity of the DPJ proposals may have been more apparent than real. The LDP was handicapped by having been in charge of most of the policies that it was now criticizing as having been from another era. To the LDP’s credit, it has not shied away from a number of possibly unpopular policy proposals, such as the more or less explicit demand for an increase in the consumption tax.
LDP manifesto: http://www.jimin.jp/jimin/english/p df/2009_yakusoku_e.pdf