The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won at the beginning of September a strong victory in the country’s parliamentary elections, putting an end to almost half a century of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rule. According to the Economist, “the rejection of the LDP is a culmination of deep changes in Japan’s political culture” and “by overthrowing the LDP, Japan’s voters have turfed out not just a party but a whole system.”1
The LDP took power in the aftermath of the Second World War promoting, as a consequence of the cold-war, a pro-American and pro-business agenda that lasted more than fifty years. However, with the mid-1990’s electoral reform, the party’s paternalism was gradually challenged by consumer interests and non-profit groups. Today, the party only keeps 119 seats out of 480 in the lower house of the Diet.2
Yukio Hatoyama was chosen as the new Prime Minister and one of his first initiatives has been to create a coalition between the Social Democrat Party and the People’s New Party, led respectively by Mizuho Fukushima and Shizuka Kame. He has also promised a strong shift in the government’s priorities: “Where the LDP looked after producers’ interests, the DPJ says it will put consumers first. It also says it will steer the economy away from export-led growth towards domestic demand.”3 The new PM has guaranteed cash allowances for families with children as well as a diminution in the power of the bureaucrats.
This new vision of an open and accountable government in the world’s second biggest economy will quickly be put under practice. The new leading party has made clear its awareness of the coming challenges it will have to face, such as the need to deal with a significant ageing population and an economy strongly weakened by the global recession. Hatoyama has also announced its will to create stronger ties with Washington. “But he said he wanted a relationship in which Japan “can act more proactively and tell them our opinions frankly”, adding that his party’s position on reviewing deals relating to the US troop presence had not changed”.4
1.- The vote that changed Japan, The Economist, September 5th-11th 2009
4.- BBC NEWS, “New PM cements Japan power shift”, 16 September 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8258024.stm