Making Policy with Bureaucrats and Experts: The Dilemma of Citizen Members in the Participatory Pension Reforms in Japan

Documenting how the Japanese state responded to increasing social discontent during initiation of unpopular welfare reforms, this study examines the factors that hindered the political empowerment of civil society despite the timely introduction of participatory policymaking institutions. The Japanese government opted in the early 2000s to introduce a participatory method to initiate the unpopular pension reform. Deliberation councils were established to encourage open discussions among government policymakers and committee members, including citizen representatives. The final outcomes of the deliberations, however, were mostly about parametric adjustments and did not adequately consider the urgent demand of the general public. The participatory measure did not significantly improve the public's trust in the pension programs, but it did justify the government's reform initiatives. The welfare bureaucracy that set the goal, defined the scope of the agenda, and steered the discussions toward technical issues structurally restricted the voices of the citizen members in the deliberation councils. The lack of citizen advocacy groups, which could otherwise have effectively supported the citizen members on the committee, contributed to the limited roles and influences of the citizens. It is argued that the traditional conservative corporatism of Japan was reinforced during this time period, despite the introduction of the idea of participatory governance.
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DOI 10.1017/s1468109916000074
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