Saturday, September 03, 2005

Lost in the Post(al Privatisation Debate)

Ooooh, I've just reread that cheesy title. Nasty. But hey, it's the end of the day, I'm going home soon and I can't be bothered to change it.

Right, where were we? Ah yes, postal privatisation (stick with me on this one). Now I know that the postal system isn't usually the most thrilling of topics, but suddenly here in Japan it's taken on massive national importance. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been pushing for reform of the postal service for most of his term in office, and despite strong resistance he took the bill for postal privatisation to a vote last month. He was almost fanatically determined to see the bill pass, and threatened to dissolve the lower house if the bill didn't get through.

And guess what? It didn't.

Due to a significant rebellion in his own party, Koizumi lost the vote 125 to 108, and true to his word he immediately dissolved parliament and ejected the politicians who voted against him from the Liberal Democratic Party. Which, let's face it, is a pretty dramatic move. When I read the news in my daily newspaper I was so shocked I accidentally let slip my cucumber sandwich and it plummeted fatally into my Earl Grey. Yes, it was that shocking.

Anyway, a general election has been called for September 11th, and the political stories that have been filling the newspapers read more like a soap opera than an election campaign. Some of the ejected politicians, obviously a little peeved off with the whole sacking thing, have formed two new parties, whilst others are running as independent candidates against the government. In retaliation, Koizumi has fielded so-called "assassin" candidates to run in the same seats as the rebel MPs, hoping that the popularity of these "assassins" will ensure the rebels don't return to parliament. Gripping stuff. Well, I think so anyway.

I still can't quite believe that the country has been thrown into such turmoil over something so seemingly trivial as post office privatisation. I was in my local post office after I heard the news, and I couldn't help scanning the faces of the seemingly friendly staff, desperately searching for a clue to the dark secret which is so important it has caused the entire governing system to become uprooted. Is the head postmaster a Level 8 Necromancer? Is the Post Office Headquarters built over Solomon's gold mines?

Well, sort of (the gold bit that is, not the Necromancer bit). Japanese people like to save (in fact Japan has one of the highest saving rates in the world) and a vast chunk of the people do their saving at the post office. In fact, the post office holds an unbelieveable 3 trillion dollars worth of savings... which it's basically doing very little with. Koizumi's plan is to free up this money through privatisation, get companies to invest it, and therefore boost the economy.

All well and good, but a part of me can't help but think it could all end up going horribly wrong. You can't blame me - after all, where I come from "privatisation" is a dirty word. I was trying to explain this to one of the Japanese teachers at my school the other day: I told him about how the government privatised the rail system in Britain, how the companies had ended up putting profits over safety and how eventually the government had to step in and take control again because things had gotten so bad. His reply was: "Really? In Japan things get better when they're privatised."

Now, I don't know how true that is, but if privatisation can work anywhere, I reckon it could work here. Or at least they could make it look like it's working by running to and from the photocopier in the office and staying late after work for no real reason other than to look busy (if you work in Japan you'll find that funny).

Anyway, the whole thing has resulted in one of the hardest fought and most anticipated election campaigns in Japanese history - there's even the chance that Junichiro Koizumi and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) could lose. Which is saying something, since bar a ten month period in the early nineties the LDP has been in power for OVER 50 YEARS. And I thought Thatcher was around for a long time.

If you're interested, you can read more about the election here: http://www.economist.com/printedition/displaystory.cfm?story_id=4267030

3 Comments:

Blogger the englishman said...

i hope gere wins, although it may conflict with his acting duties, which would be a tragedy.

8:58 pm  
Blogger Paul Hewitt said...

On the privatisation thing I was reading that they privatised the rail network a while back. I would say that went a little better than it did in the UK as all the trains run on time and I heard they even make a profit despite the huge cost of the Shinkansen. So if it works for trains in Japan I supose it could work for the post office too.

5:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Richard Gere is leading too. Just goes to show hollywood rules out over world leaders. USA!

4:06 pm  

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