Power shift foreseen in Japanese election
Liberal Democrats have ruled since ’55
TOKYO – Japanese cast ballots today in hotly contested parliamentary elections in which the ruling conservative party, battered by a laggard economy and voter desire for change after more than half a century of virtual one-party rule, was expected to suffer an overwhelming defeat.
The Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, went into the elections with all major polls projecting it would lose control of the lower house of parliament.
That would likely mean the fall of Prime Minister Taro Aso and his Cabinet and the creation of a new government headed by centrist Democratic Party of Japan chief Yukio Hatoyama – who would become the first prime minister not backed by the Liberal Democrats since 1994.
The vote is widely seen as a barometer of two related issues: voter frustrations over the ailing economy, which is in one of its worst slumps since World War II, and a loss of confidence in the Liberal Democrats’ ability to tackle tough problems such as the rising national debt and rapidly aging population.
But even with severe challenges pressing the nation, many analysts said the elections might not be about the issues so much as voters’ general desire for something new after nearly 54 years under the Liberal Democrats.
They also note that although the Democrats promise to change Japan’s approach toward its economy and make Tokyo’s diplomacy less U.S.-centric, their founders are defectors from the Liberal Democrats and are not likely to present too radical a departure from the country’s current path.
“The election is more about emotions than policies,” Tokyo University political science professor Takashi Mikuriya said in a televised interview. “Most voters are making the decision not about policies but about whether they are fed up with the ruling party.”
Japanese media predicted a high voter turnout.
“We don’t know if the Democrats can really make a difference, but we want to give them a chance,” Junko Shinoda, 59, a government employee, said after voting at a crowded polling center in downtown Tokyo.
Hatoyama, 62, urged a crowd in his final campaign speech Saturday to “have the courage to do away with the old politics.”
“A change may not come overnight, but we will definitely make it happen,” he said.
Trying to cut the ruling party’s losses, Aso – whose own support ratings have sagged to a dismal 20 percent – called on voters in his final pitch Saturday to stick with his party, saying the Democrats are untested and unable to lead.
He and the ruling party have stressed that they are the stewards of Japan’s rise from the ashes of World War II into one of the world’s biggest economic powers and are best equipped to get it out of its current morass.
But that argument has taken a beating.
On Friday, the government reported that the unemployment rate for July hit 5.7 percent – the highest level in Japan’s post-World War II era.
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