Japanese voters in Japan have handed the Democratic Party of Japan a landslide victory, sweeping the ruling Liberal Democratic Party out of power the LDP has held almost continuously since it was established in 1955. The remarkable aspect about this election is that Japanese have voted for change they don't believe in and for a DPJ leader, Yukio Hatoyama, they aren't all that crazy about. Polls show that most voters do not support key provisions of the DPJ's platform and only about one third want Hatoyama as the next prime minister. It is even more astonishing that a mere 25 percent of voters think the DPJ will head Japan in the right direction. Clearly this was a repudiation of the LDP and its dead-end policies more than a vote of confidence in the DPJ.
Now we get to find out if the untested DPJ is ready for prime time. Hatoyama needs to demonstrate leadership skills that he has kept carefully hidden until now and clarify what the DPJ wants to do with its political power. During the campaign, the DPJ sent mixed signals on a variety of key issues and was vague about its plans on resolving the current economic crisis and how it plans to rein in the soaring misery index of rising joblessness, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and suicides coupled with declining wages, bonuses, and job security.
A mercurial longtime powerbroker, now disgraced, is behind the rise of Japan's opposition party.
By Tobias Harris
Only three days before the elections, unemployment spiked to a record 5.7 percent, hammering in the last nail of the LDP's coffin. With the economy on the skids, the DPJ has seized the poisoned chalice. Having pledged not to raise taxes for four years, while promising various tax cuts, subsidies and hand-outs, the DPJ will be adding to Japan's record high public debt-to-GDP ratio, already closing in on 200 percent, by far the highest among advanced industrialized nations.
The DPJ can no longer duck the hard choices or take both sides of an issue as it did in the campaign. It faces a very tough challenge in turning the corner on the economy. The DPJ will shift spending from public-works projects to social welfare spending, a priority that resonates with Japan's rapidly aging population. It also seeks to reduce dependence on export-led growth by putting more money into consumers' pockets -- not a bad idea, but not one that will promote recovery anytime soon. Clearly, prioritizing budget allocations, creating jobs and economic growth, improving the safety net, and rebuilding trust in government are the main concerns of the DPJ government, but it also has lots to prove on the foreign-policy front.