Japan’s premier Taro Aso is battling for survival, what with the economic crisis and the infighting within the ranks of the Liberal Democrats, his own party. Sections of his party want him to call for new elections, but the latest polls show that Aso wouldn’t be raking in even a tenth of the votes. But troubled waters may even be beneficial for some fish and some fishermen: as in the case of the Communist Party of Japan.
The Communists currently hold nine of the 480 seats in the Lower House
Kazuo Shii, the leader of the Japanese Communist Party often appears on Japanese television. Party leaders are often invited to express their views on important issues if they are represented in parliament. There are 16 Communist MPs in today’s parliament in Tokyo. The party won 7 percent of the vote in the 2005 elections when the economy was doing well. Now they are becoming more popular, Shii says.
"These days, things are looking better for Japan’s Communist Party than for others. In the past 16 months, our membership numbers have grown consistently. We have 16,000 new members."
Including several young members -- which is rare in Japan where many young people, as well as older ones, are rather disenchanted with politics. The Liberal Democrats, or LDP, have ruled the country since 1955, with only one short break. The party’s popularity ratings have fallen sharply.
Although strong opposition is provided by the Democratic Party, or DPJ, the fact that it also has former LDP members and caters to a very broad spectrum of voters has put off some of the electorate.
More and more, people are supporting parties with clear and simple ideas. "We, the Communist Party, want real societal reform, capitalism with rules that protect the rights of ordinary people," says Shii. "Improved living standards. This is what our party is interested in and that is why it is comforting for Japanese people."
Kazuo Shii has led Japan’s Communists since 2000. With his tidy side-parting, his somewhat chubby face and glasses, he comes across as harmless and rather dull. But his eloquence and openness have made him a popular guest on Japan’s talk shows. And although he quotes Karl Marx whenever possible, he also insists at the same time that neither corporations nor the US are his enemies.
His main goal is to improve the lives of people and help society overall. His solutions are familiar: the rich should pay more taxes and the defence budget should be cut drastically.
"As you can tell from our name, we still have a fundamental principle -- to eventually overcome capitalism and to develop a community, which transcends the principle of socialism."
The Communist Party of Japan has 400,000 members. It is also very active at community level. People often say that if someone has a problem, he or she should turn to the Communist Party.
In these times of disenchantment and financial crisis, there are some who think voters might turn to the Communist Party en masse later this year. Parliamentary elections have to take place in September by the latest.