Local Press Coverage
of the Virtual Mayoral Campaign for Direct Democracy
TAKING THE INITIATIVE By Ken Rodgers
- CAMPAIGNING FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS IN KYOTO
By Ken Rodgers
Japan Environment Monitor
In a bid to introduce to Japan both the concept and actuality of local-level direct democracy, Kyoto resident David Kubiak, long- term activist, networker and well-known critic of Japan's mega- organizations, is preparing to campaign as a candidate in Kyoto's upcoming mayoral election. There is however a "small technical problem". That is, despite having lived long enough in Japan to have gained legally naturalized status four times in the U.S.A., Kubiak is still ineligible to even vote, let alone stand for public office in Japan. (A disenfranchisement shared by even third-generation Japanese residents of Korean lineage, incidentally).
Undeterred, on the auspicious date of April 1st, Kubiak legally registered an independent political association, the Nancho Iijin Butai, (an effective way, incidentally, to create a tax- free activist/fund-raising organization that other groups would do well to investigate). Since his actual registration as a mayoral candidate is certain to be rejected, he already refers to running a "virtual campaign", as a "virtual candidate". Instead of votes, he actually seeks to collect at least 24,000 signatures from voters on a formal request for a city ordinance allowing citizen initiatives and referenda. "Nowhere else in Japan have these basic rights been approved or even proposed - and as yet there's really no word that expresses what is meant by 'citizen initiative' in the Japanese language", he comments. Once implemented in Kyoto, Japan's spiritual heartland, this change could show the way for the rest of the nation, and provide a means for direct legislative action on every type of local issue.
Kubiak identifies the bureaucratic domination of Japan's lawmaking system as a major obstacle to democracy and political awareness in Japan: "If you want Japan to be responsible in the international community, first of all you have to give the citizens responsibility. In the Japanese system of 'representative democracy,' as opposed to a direct democratic system, politicians are supposed to represent the wishes of their constituencies and codify these into legal proposals and present them as bills for enactment. Nobody has presented a bill drafted by a legislator in the Kyoto Assembly for 38 years! So representational democracy doesn't really represent anything down here."
Who constitutes Kubiak's constituency? "The 'other Japanese', who don't fit any of the stereotypes - primarily activists, whether monks, or mothers, or old people, all those who haven't given up on making the system work for themselves, their families, or their communities". He describes his "virtual campaign" as a call to voters to "vote for themselves", a concept perhaps superficially reminiscent of the U.S. 70's Yippie "Nobody For President" campaign (sample slogan: "Who's got your interests at heart in Washington? ...Nobody!"), but supported by a solid platform citing five essential changes required for real democratic rights in Japan:
Not coincidentally, these form the theme of a book Kubiak has just produced, entitled Memes for a New Democracy (in Japanese, no English translation as yet) and published by Kamogawa Shoten. It analyzes these issues through interviews with eminent Japanese activists and articles by experts in civil law and associated fields. A campaign video cassette, Mo Hitotsu No Nippon, is also planned; sales of tapes and the book are hoped to make this a unique example of a self-financing campaign.
- Freedom of information
- Freedom of the media
- Reintroduction of the jury system
- Legalization of citizen initiatives and referenda
- Local control (of school boards, air waves, police, etc.)
Being a virtual candidate gives Kubiak the opportunity to focus on the issues that other candidates prefer to ignore. For example, throw-away consumerism: "Nothing should be disposable, and there should be really radical taxes on things that are thrown away, especially things that are made to be thrown away".
He is also especially concerned by current pressures on Kyoto's faltering craft traditions, which he describes as "the greatest extant models I know for a future Gaian economy, in terms of creative sustainable modes of production, in terms of craft-based life". While other candidates fixate on a techno-nirvanic vision of 21st Century Kyoto, Kubiak points out that "a socio-economic climate that makes the pursuit of craft trades and lifestyles 'impractical' is systematically extinguishing the flames of Kyoto's culture".
Kubiak has no intention of perpetuating what he characterizes as the "dismal" lack of substance in Japanese electioneering. He is setting up Kyoto's first volunteer-run multilingual community mini- FM radio station to air interviews and debate on relevant issues (with programming exchange from a FM station run by a Korean group in Osaka), and will operate a free computer bulletin-board, providing information and allowing direct input and feedback from the community, both on the local and international level.
The campaign will also be directed overseas, in an attempt to dispel the highly distorted image received through most media: "Japan's corporate bodies are what constantly fill television, newspapers and advertising, and the human face of the country is almost invisible. Meanwhile, the people here, because of cartel pricing, are overpaying for everything, and the extra money they pay, that cuts into their own quality of life, ends up financing dumping campaigns and predatory marketing abroad. Those offensives then destroy other nations' industries, putting their people out of jobs, and raising up an extraordinary level of foreign animosity towards the same Japanese citizens who are getting bilked at home. This all will finally make the country less secure, and, in the long run, less economically viable. So ordinary Japanese are in effect having to buy their own doom. And to the extent that they still have no real political say in how things operate here, they really cannot be blamed for what is happening, and that has to be shown."
Kubiak welcomes suggestions, support, feedback, and even non-corporate donations. Contact:
Nancho Ijin Butai, Shinchihaya,
8 Kaguraoka-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606;
Tel: (075)761-1400; Fax: (075)762-2267