August 16, 2005EconomyPublic Policy

The difference between Manmohan Singh and Junichiro Koizumi

This Singh is no Lion

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

There are several similarities between India and Japan. The Congress party and the Liberal Democratic Party are, respectively, the political incumbents who think political power is somehow their birthright. In both countries, the prime minister is not automatically the leader of the ruling party, which is run by shadowy cliques and coteries. And the ruling party (or the coalition in India’s case) is not fully sold on the need for urgent reforms to invigorate the economy. Selling off state-owned enterprises is a particular bugbear. And this is where similarities end.

Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s prime minister, dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections when his proposal to privatise the Japanese postal system was voted down in parliament.

It may not in fact turn out as a double suicide, but that is certainly what Mr Koizumi is risking. By challenging the old guard in his party and by ejecting the 37 LDP parliamentarians who voted in the lower house against his flagship scheme, the privatisation of Japan Post, setting the stage for its upper house defeat, he is deliberately splitting his own party and thereby risks losing power to the main opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). By threatening dissolution if he did not get his postal bills through, Mr Koizumi must have thought that his LDP opponents would back down for fear of bringing on their own demise. But they didn’t. In Japanese politics, as opposed to Kabuki, this is a rare and unfamiliar drama. Yet it is extremely welcome. [The Economist]

The Indian cabinet on the other hand has caved in to the pressure exerted by its Communist coalition partners and shelved its much less ambitious plans to reduce its stake in 13 public sector units. It is true that Koizumi tolerated several such reverses since 2001, and resorted to the drastic measure of dissolving parliament only when his flagship reform programme was scuttled. But it is pertinent to ask what Dr Manmohan Singh’s flagship economic reform programme is? There isn’t one. There is just an travesty of an economic agenda in what is appropriately termed as the National Common Minimum Programme.

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