Japan's Democrats Win Historic Election

8-31-09, 9:14 am

Original source: Global Times

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Yukio Hatoyama speaks during a news conference after his party won the lower house election in Tokyo August 31, 2009. The DPJ is set to win Sunday's general election by landslide, sweeping the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) out of almost unbroken power since 1955 to usher in a new era of Japanese politics, showed by the exit polls. (Xinhua/Ren Zhenglai)

Japan's opposition party was headed for a historic victory in elections Sunday – a predictable triumph that would oust the long-standing rule of the conservative party and offer the Japanese 'a chance for change' to pull the country out of the economic mire.

Chinese experts anticipate that the new government will endeavor to forge better ties with China, though overall relations 'will not change greatly.'

As exit polls by major Japanese TV networks showed, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was set to win more than 300 of the 480 seats in the House of Representatives, exceeding the 241 majority. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party admitted its defeat last night.

'These results are very severe,' Prime Minister Taro Aso said at a news conference. 'There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party.'

Aso said he would have to accept responsibility for the results, suggesting that he would resign as party president, according to the AP.

The DPJ is planning to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party, as it is short of an overall majority in the House of Councilors or upper house, Kyodo News said.

'We will have to consult two leaders from the other parties, we will work toward realizing that from tomorrow,' DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said yesterday.

He promised to voters after polls closed that 'we will not be arrogant, and we will listen to the people.'

The party has also said it would seek a more independent relationship with Washington, while forging closer ties with Japan's Asian neighbors, including China, according to the AP.

The DPJ's win in the lower-house election is a historic victory, with the LDP having ruled Japan for most of the past 50 years.

'Everyone was expecting a change. I don't really expect the DPJ to do much, but to win a chance for a change,' Kazuyuki Yichida, a senior Politics undergraduate at Keio University in Tokyo, whose whole family voted for the DPJ, said.

'The rise of the DPJ has balanced the political power with the ruling party, which marks a successful political transition to the Western mode of democratic politics in Japan,' Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of international relations at China Foreign Affairs University, said.

Referring to the policy guidelines of the two parties, Lu Yaodong, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that, 'Actually, neither party really has the capacity to lead the nation to rid it of the economic downturn, although the DPJ has mentioned the livelihood of the public.'

'Most Japanese just want to change the stagnant situation caused by the old party and the global financial crisis, with the regime change,' Lu said.

The Democrats vow to attach more importance to households with child allowances and aid for farmers while taking control of policy from bureaucrats, often blamed for Japan's failure to solve problems such as a creaking pension system.

No big changes in relations

A report by Reuters emphasized Sunday that, 'A key challenge for the next government will be managing ties with China,' adding that China is seen as overtaking Japan as the world's second-largest economy in 2010.

Chinese experts assume that China will experience no big change in Sino-Japanese relations even after a change of government, while some noted that there are some positive elements for Sino-Japanese relations after such a victory.

'Both are conservative parties, and there will not be much of a change in strategy toward China,' Wu Guangyi, a researcher at the CASS Institute of World Economics and Politics, told the Global Times.

The DPJ has made it clear in its policy guidelines that, 'As the (Yasukuni) Shrine worships Class-A war criminals, it's not acceptable for the prime minister and cabinet members to pay a visit there.' Besides, the party also advocates setting up an investigation bureau to investigate Japanese war crimes, and pay compensation to the 'comfort women.'

On the contrary, many LDP politicians have visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined.

'Under the rule of the DPJ and its leader, the history issues that plagued Sino-Japanese relations may be alleviated,' Yang Bojiang, an expert on Japanese Studies at the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said.

Although Japan has long taken China as a major rival in political-security issues, the party will still make full use of China to develop its domestic economy, Yang said.

However, the DPJ basically develops and expands its strength by encroaching upon the traditional power of the LDP, and even its financial supporter, Nippon Keidanren, who used to support the LDP, switched allegiance to the DPJ, and therefore the overall policy toward China won't change sharply.

Also, some younger members of the DPJ seem to be more concerned about 'practical interests,' especially territorial disputes with China, Yang said.

Zhang Han contributed to this story