- Party Politics and Decentralization in Japan and France: When the Opposition Governs
In his book, Koichi Nakano analyzes the role of opposition parties in policymaking. He argues that decentralization occurs when the major opposition party comes to power (hence the book’s subtitle, When the Opposition Governs). By comparing the processes of decentralization in France and [End Page 480] Japan, which experienced a centralized mode of modernization that persisted into the twentieth century under conservative rule, Nakano traces the processes in which opposition parties engage with their structural settings and promote decentralization as they compete for power.
Chapter 1 outlines the analytical foundation of the book. Nakano introduces the idea of oppositional policy, which may be defined as a policy that is advocated by parties in opposition, placed on the legislative agenda when they come to power, and pursued at times even when it ceases to make partisan sense to do so. Decentralization is one such policy and hypothesized to be achievable with alternation in power. Also, the methodological approach in this book may be considered unique, a combination of structure-based perspectives with actor-based explanations. By identifying a dynamic mechanism of decentralization, Nakano attempts to illuminate the interactive processes between political actors and their surrounding structures.
Chapter 2 focuses on the failure of decentralization reform in the absence of a change of governing majority under conservative dominance in France and Japan. Nakano argues that the political elite in established unitary states, where the center has overpowered the periphery over the course of modernization, lacked the political will and ability to reverse centralization. In his view, central imposition and local resistance provide convincing accounts for persistent centralist stagnation.
Chapter 3 gives an account of the shaping of oppositional policy of decentralization in the two countries. In a prolonged period of opposition, both the French and Japanese socialist parties underwent a process of ideological transformation. The socialist parties eventually abandoned their state-centric traditions to adopt radical decentralization and strove to recast their identities as the popular alternative to centralization under conservative rule.
The French socialists succeeded in capturing both the presidency and a parliamentary majority, whereas the Japanese counterpart was unable to extend its electoral successes from the local to national level. Chapter 4 looks into the impact of alternation in power in France. According to Nakano, the dynamics of party competition pushed the French socialists to rebuild their ideational and institutional resources around their commitment to decentralization, which enabled them to rejuvenate their thinking and broaden their support base. Although the socialists came to possess the power to practice what they had been promising, decentralization reforms pursued by Minister of Interior and Decentralization Gaston Defferre were ironically tantamount to giving away the power to the localities where the socialists started losing ground in local elections. Eventually, the socialists lost their zeal for decentralization and came to behave rather more like their conservative predecessors.
On the other hand, the Japanese socialists acceded to power only in [End Page 481] coalition with their former arch rivals. Chapter 5 explores the Japanese case as limited alternation in power. Nakano argues that the transformation from one-party dominance to coalition politics forced the ruling conservative party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), to modify its close relationship with the centralist bureaucracy. When left deprived of a parliamentary majority, the LDP had to face the reformist pressure, both from within the coalition and from the parties in opposition. However, the reformist resources were rather limited. Unlike French politicians who may simultaneously hold offices at the national and local levels and benefit from decentralization reforms that they promote, the administrative structure in Japan did not allow such political entrepreneurs to facilitate the enactment of decentralization, although coalition politics brought several socialist politicians to prominent ministerial positions. In Nakano’s view, it was the coalition government led by the socialist leader Murayama Tomiichi that mustered the political will and clout to overcome the obstacles to decentralization for the first time in Japan.