Politics and the Judiciary in Northeast Asia
On April 26, the Tokyo District Court is expected to hand down a ruling in the case of Ichiro Ozawa, accused of breaking electoral finance law. The Ozawa case, likely to end in the acquittal of the veteran lawmaker, resulted in his resignation as head of the Democratic Party of Japan just as he was poised to become the nation’s prime minister. Critics of the case have charged that this raises serious questions about the relationship between the courts and the political world in Japan. Scholars of legal practice in Northeast Asia have noted that other judiciaries in the region have also assumed a more active political role in recent decades. The courts were key actors, for example, in Taiwan’s movements towards democratization, but more recently have been accused of meddling in the island’s politics by convicting former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian on bribery charges. In Korea, meanwhile, judges have been actively involved in discussions about such issues as relocation of the capital, which have traditionally been dealt with in the political realm. Do such cases constitute a “judicialization” of politics in Northeast Asian countries, and if so, what are the ramifications for democratic rule in these nations?