Japan’s main opposition party, Democratic Party of Japan, made a historic landslide victory in elections Sunday, upending the ruling conservative party, which has ruled Japan for all but 11 months since 1955.
Japan has had three prime ministers in three years, all of whom were deeply unpopular for their perceived lack of leadership and for failing to get the country out of its deepening economic morass.
“All the bad things over the last 54 years finally caught up to them,” said Fumio Morita, 45, who runs a bar in Tokyo. “It’s good that they are no longer in power.”
A grim-looking Prime Minister Taro Aso conceded defeat just a couple hours after polls had closed, and has now stated he will resign as the president of the Liberal Democratic Party to take responsibility.
“The results are very severe,” Aso said. “There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party.”
“I must accept responsibility” for the Liberal Democratic Party’s expected major losses, Aso said during a televised interview with Japanese national broadcaster NHK.
Unemployment and deflation-and an aging, shrinking population-have left families fearful of what the future holds.
“It’s a historic election in that a clear alternation of power has happened for the first time in the postwar period,” said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “It’s kind of hard to know whether this is going to lead to a real change in policy, at least for the short term.”
With only two weeks of official campaigning that focused mainly on broad-stroke appeals rather than specific policies, many analysts said the elections were not so much about issues as voters’ general desire for something new after more than a half century under the LDP.
“I’m hoping that Japan will forever be changed for the better,” stated an excited voter.
Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the The Democratic Party of Japan, ended 50 years of single-party rule with vows to arrest Japan’s decay and tame its bureaucracy.
Hatoyama’s party, which already controls the upper house with two allies, held just 112 seats in the lower house before parliament was dissolved in July.
The Democratic Party of Japan needed to win a simple majority of 241 seats in the lower house to ensure it could name the next prime minister. The 300-plus level would allow it and its two smaller allies the two-thirds majority they need in the lower house to pass bills.
Official results were to be announced mid-morning Monday, but media exit polls indicated the Democrats would win 300 or more of the 480 seats in the more powerful lower house of Japan’s parliament. That would be enough to give them the power to establish a new Cabinet and name Hatoyama as prime minister by the end of next month.
In foreign relations, the Democrats have said they want Tokyo to be more independent from Washington on diplomatic issues, though they have stressed that the U.S. will remain Japan’s key ally and that they want to keep relations good, while also strengthening ties with their Asian neighbors.
Excerpts taken from stories by AP, Bloomberg, and Dow Jones