Politicization of senior civil service in Japan: Influence of Political Control and Change in the Merit Principle of the System

Dr. Akiko Izumo

The emerging actors in the Japanese public policy arena have been changing government decision-making. In the past, public administration in Japan was stable, but minimally reformed and unaccountable to the public. Now, however, the reform era is opening the window to define new standards for governance encountering delays in progress of policy.
The research question of this paper is whether Japanese senior civil service has been politicized in governance reform and how did senior civil servants react to rising influence of political control. This paper adopts new institutional theory as a research method. It analyzed how institutions set an arena of discussing senior civil service system, and how politicians and bureaucrats act in policy making process.
The expertise of public employees in an era of governance reform has been facing the risk of damage in Japan by experiencing stronger political control to senior service system. The merit principle of appointment constitutes a core value for the Civil Service, but modern political executives are not satisfied with this system. Requests to increase political appointees have become more common in the era of governance reform. Also, the politization of senior civil service has been apparent in appointing senior civil service these days.
It has been argued that that the merit principle we have cultivated is too formalized to evaluate the ability of civil servants or to identify executive leadership. The political appointment system is a mechanism in the Civil Service to facilitate coordination and interaction between politics and public administration, specifically, between executives and senior civil servants. It is an effective support for executive leaders to ensure responsiveness from civil servants. The problem is the range of approved political appointments and how political appointees and civil servants play their own roles in policy-making processes.
It will be a fundamental issue for civil service reform to draw a borderline between politicians and senior civil servants and reconstruct the merit system to improve the incentives and expertise of civil servants.