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A Political Earthquake In Japan

by @ 5:27 pm on August 30, 2009. Filed under Foreign Affairs, Japan

A political party that has only been in existence since 1998 has been swept into power in Tokyo:

TOKYO, Aug. 30 — Breaking a half-century hammerlock of one-party rule in Japan, the opposition Democratic Party won a crushing election victory on Sunday with pledges to revive the country’s stalled economy and steer a foreign-policy course less dependent on the United States.

But it was pent-up voter anger, not campaign promises, that halted 54 years of near-continuous dominance by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The party had become a profoundly unpopular, but deeply entrenched governing force which so feared that it would be swept from power that it had put off a national election for nearly three years.

In a landslide on a rainy day, voters handed control of the government over to a slightly left-of-center opposition party formed by disaffected LDP veterans and led by Yukio Hatoyama, 62, a Stanford-trained engineer who is likely to be chosen prime minister in mid-September.

“I believe all the people were feeling a great rage against the current government,” Hatoyama said Sunday night. “This is not a victory for the Democratic Party, but a victory for democracy.”


apan, the postwar wonder that grew into the world’s second-largest economy, became enfeebled and directionless in the latter years of LDP’s long watch, with stagnant wages and sputtering growth, the worrying rise of the world’s oldest population and a monstrous government debt that will soon double the gross national product. Unemployment set a record last week and the economy shrank for much of the past year at nearly twice the rate of the United States.

For these failings, voters seemed eager to punish the LDP and its unpopular leader, Prime Minister Taro Aso, who on Sunday called his party’s defeat “very severe.”

“I think it is a result of the people’s dissatisfaction and distrust towards LDP’s leadership,” Aso said, adding that he took responsibility for the loss and would step down as party leader.

Judging from polls and voter interviews, the opposition won a crushing victory not because of its attractive policies or charismatic leadership. There is skepticism about how sound those policies are and doubt about how capable the party’s unproven leaders will be. Instead, the Democratic Party won by default, as the only available means by which voters could wrest power from the LDP.

“It is not really that I am voting for the Democratic Party,” said Atsushi Neriugawa, 49, owner of a consulting company, as he stood in line waiting to vote in Tokyo. “I simply want power to change. If the Democratic Party happens to be no good, then I will revert back to LDP.”

In other words, the Democratic Party seems to have been the beneficiary of a “throw the bums out” attitude that’s been welling up in the Japanese electorate for quite some time. Whether they’ll be able to make something out of it remains to be seen.

One Response to “A Political Earthquake In Japan”

  1. chsw says:

    The “throw the bums out” attitude not only reflects the economic situation in Japan but also the Japan Democratic Party’s stand on relations with the USA. The JDP advocates more independence from the USA on foreign and military issues. They think that President Obama is dangerous for America’s allies. Hence, the JDP can be expected to increase the country’s defense forces in budget, size, and sophistication of weaponry. This will, in turn, have a negative effect on American and Japanese relations with China.

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