Japanese Elections

I know we have some Japan folks on PWI… what do you all think? What’s going to happen? Was this all Aso’s fault or can a lot of the blame go to Fukuda and the rest of the party? Any predictions for tomorrow? Will they crash and burn or will there be a surprise do you think?

Personally, I haven’t been following much for the last year, mostly because I hate Aso. This election should be interesting. While I don’t like Aso personally, I also don’t really support the other parties non-market policies either… I can’t wait to see what will happen.

[i]Braced for changed
Aug 28th 2009
From Economist.com

Japan prepares for political upheaval after Sundayâ??s general election

IN A land of volcanoes and earthquakes the seismic shift is all too common. But for decades Japanâ??s political landscape has not reflected the countryâ??s geological uncertainty. A general election on Sunday August 30th should change all that. Opinion polls suggest that when voters go to the polls for the powerful lower house of the Diet (parliament), the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), will trounce the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), thus ending over 50 years of nearly continuous rule.

The magnitude of the defeat facing Taro Aso, the prime minister and LDP leader, is startling. A poll in Thursday’s Asahi Shimbun suggests that the LDPâ??s representation in the Diet could be more than halved to about 100 seats. The DPJ could take as many as 320 of the chamberâ??s 480 seats.

Japanâ??s political fault-lines have opened up despite an election campaign that has hardly caused tremors. As it got under way nearly two weeks ago, there was something quaintly old-fashioned in the absence of television hoopla. Even the two main candidates for prime minister, Mr Aso and Yukio Hatoyama of the DPJ, have resisted tearing into each other. And in a country otherwise obsessed by mass-media, a ban on internet campaigning also recalled a bygone era. But if the LDP thought that keeping politics off the web would thwart the opposition, which enjoys more support from younger, wired voters, as some DPJ politicians claim, it seems to have failed.

In a recent survey, support for the DPJ was more than twice that for the LDP among the young. But strikingly, an even bigger share of votersâ??a whopping 38%â??said they were undecided. These flighty voters, referred to as yawarakai hoshu-so, or â??flexible conservativesâ??, are the kingmakers of Japanese politics. Typically in their 30s, they are university-educated, middle-class, prefer stability to big changes and do not care much about politics. But they tend to vote as a block, and can sway the outcome of elections. They played a large part both in the landslide victory in 2005 of Junichiro Koizumi, a former prime minister, and the LDPâ??s upper-house defeat two years later.

Their opinions fluctuate wildly, but they can be decisive. The lesson for the 2009 election is that winning the â??flexiconsâ?? is crucial. To this end, the DPJ has put forward youthful, telegenic candidates; typical LDP candidates are in their late 60s and have little to say on matters affecting younger voters. Mr Hatoyama has also borrowed Barack Obamaâ??s successful appeal for â??changeâ??. The DPJ says evicting the ruling party will break the stranglehold on the budget held by mandarins, giving it freedom to cope with Japanâ??s ageing population, the low birth-rate and a dangerously lopsided, export-oriented economy.

Mr Aso has questioned the DPJâ??s ability to pay for expensive campaign promises, such as a �¥26,000 ($280) a month child allowance to push up the birth rate, heavily subsidised schooling, dropping road tolls and income support to farmers. But these counter-attacks may not be enough to quell votersâ?? dissatisfaction with the long rule of the LDP and the leadership of gaffe-prone Mr Aso as economic conditions remain difficult. Although Japanâ??s economy has started to grow again, figures released on Friday showed that unemployment had crept up to 5.7%, the highest level since the second world war.

Whether the DPJ, an unknown quantity, can make a better fist of running the economy is open to question. Mr Hatoyama railed against American-led â??market fundamentalismâ?? preferring a woolly-sounding concept, that he calls fraternity. He says it means that activities such as agricultureâ??already heavily protectedâ??will not be left â??at the mercy of the tides of globalismâ??. Businessmen fear the noises coming from the DPJ that seem to promise more worker-friendly policies such as banning the use of temporary labour in manufacturing and raising the minimum wage. The DPJ has also promised to loosen Japanâ??s close ties to American foreign policy. So if Sundayâ??s election produces the political earthquake predicted the next question will be whether the DPJ is capable of delivering a series of aftershocks too.

Edit: link: Braced for change | The Economist

I was in Japan when Tomiichi Murayama, of the Japanese Socialist Party, became Prime Minister, which made him the first Socialist Prime Minister in fifty years.

Talk about a seismic shift.

However, not much changed in Japan as a result, except that for the first time since the war, the government admitted that the Empire of the Sun had done some pretty bad stuff in China and elsewhere.

Murayama’s government was largely ineffectual, dragging their feet while Kobe lay in rubble and ashes after the 1995 earthquake, and in shortly afterward when the Aum cult gassed the Tokyo subways with nerve gas, not far from where I worked.

Murayama stepped down in 1996, after his lefty coalition party got clobbered in the general election. Humiliated, he retired from politics, and another LDP member, Ryutaro Hashimoto, became Prime Minister.

Not much changed then, either.

Japan’s election

Aug 31st 2009 | TOKYO
From Economist.com
A landslide victory for the DPJ in Japan


The victors have an emotive name for it: seiken kotai, or regime change. It came in brutal fashion on Sunday August 30th when Japan, Asiaâ??s richest democracy, dumped the party that has ruled it for almost all of the last 53 years and gave a huge win to one that until recently had little idea of how it would govern.

In a historic result, unofficial results showed that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), a leftist grouping of ruling-party renegades, social democrats and socialists, was heading for a landslide. It is led by Yukio Hatoyama, a mild-mannered career politician likely to be the next prime minister. He promises a government less beholden to the powerful civil service, wants to temper the free market and is keen to dole out cash to the disadvantaged in the economically stagnant and ageing country. He declined to name a cabinet until he is confirmed as prime minister in a special session of the lower house, or Diet. That may be within the next two weeks.
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Jubilant cries of Banzai! echoed around the DPJâ??s victorious campaign offices. NHK, the public broadcaster, said the party had won 308 seats in the Diet, with almost all the seats counted, as polls had largely predicted. The DPJ hopes to forge a coalition with two minor parties that would give it a two-thirds majority, enabling it to force through legislation. But the three parties do not see eye to eye on all issues, which means plenty of haggling will be needed. The DPJ already holds the upper house.

For the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) there was no disguising its anguish, as discredited heavyweight after heavyweight fell, often to young, telegenic DPJ novices shrewdly drafted in as giant-killers. Taro Aso, the visibly shaken prime minister, conceded defeat, describing the result as â??very severeâ??. When he dissolved parliament in July to hold the elections, the LDP held 300 seats. NHKâ??s count showed it had won 119 seats so far, almost the same as the puny number the DPJ held before the elections.

The raw numbers, however dramatic, only partly tell of the upheaval this could mean for Japanese politics. The LDP has had its hands on almost every lever of power for more than half a century; even when it briefly lost office in 1993, it regained it within 11 months because the forces assembled against it fell apart.

During much of its tenure, it held power because it helped deliver rising prosperity to a country that had only recently endured the ignominy of second-world-war defeat and American occupation. After taking office in 1955, it turned Japan into one of Americaâ??s firmest cold-war allies.

But as Japanâ??s economic miracle faded, and the country sank into a deflationary funk in the 1990s, the LDP clung onto power largely thanks to an entrenched system of patronage and lavish use of the pork barrel. It used public funds or access to Japanâ??s vast pool of private savings to launch public-works projects that for its last two decades in power kept its grass-roots supporters, such as farmers and construction workers, loyal.

None of that spending generated a sustainable recovery, however, nor did reforms by Junichiro Koizumi, a political one-off who revived the LDPâ??s fortunes during the last election in 2005, but whose followers, known as â??Koizumiâ??s childrenâ??, were crushed by the DPJ this time round. Instead Japan has become saddled with a debt projected to rise to twice the countryâ??s Â¥497 trillion ($500 billion) GDP, and it remains dangerously dependent on its large exporters. Figures released in the closing days of the campaign showed unemployment, exacerbated by the global financial slump, hit a record 5.7% in July. Deflation has also re-emerged; consumer prices fell 2.2% in July from a year earlier.

The LDPâ??s failure to improve peopleâ??s lives was one of the twin pillars of the DPJâ??s successful campaign. The other was the LDPâ??s complicity with an all-encompassing bureaucracy that has been guilty of staggering incompetence recently, not least by losing millions of personal-pension records in 2007. The public has also been vexed by the practice of rewarding top civil servants with plum jobs at firms they formerly supervised. The DPJ has vowed to stamp out that policy.

But how well it can fulfill its manifesto pledgesâ??repeated with worthy insistence on the campaign trailâ??will depend on many factors. Firstly, it may need to reach some sort of accommodation with civil-service mandarins, because only a handful of its most senior members have experience at cabinet level. Its spending proposals are largely to be funded by cutting waste from government spending; that is always easier to promise than to deliver.

Meanwhile, Japanâ??s economy is still poised precariously between recovery and renewed slump. If the recovery fails to materialise, it will not necessarily be the DPJâ??s fault. But it will be the first test of its administrative competence in a country that is crying out for good leadership.

Besides naming a cabinet, Mr Hatoyama, who has appeared to flip-flop on sensitive issues such as Japanâ??s occasionally subordinate relationship with America, is soon likely to have to step onto the world stage. He hopes to travel to New York in September for the UN general assembly, and will probably meet Barack Obama on that trip.

But as he sets out to introduce a new era of political openness and accountability to Japan, he will be dogged by a thorny question that was already being put to him as he cautiously claimed victory on Sunday night. That is the position of Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJâ??s former leader, who orchestrated this remarkable election victory and is a master manipulator eminently capable of pulling Mr Hatoyamaâ??s strings.

So far, the new leader has ducked the question. But Japan, for all that it will celebrate dealing the LDP a punishment it has long deserved, will want an answer. Otherwise its people may fear they have replaced one dark force with another.