ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Breaking with the Past

An unprecedented defeat of the ruling party in Japan promises landmark change.

In a major landmark event in Japanese politics, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which governed Japan for more than five decades barring a short interruption in the 1990s, was defeated comprehensively in the elections to the lower house of the Diet held on 30 August. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 308 out of the 480 seats and has formed a government with its allies, the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party of Japan. The mandate was a decisive rejection of the LDP – a party whose “machine” was built through years of collaboration between big business, the bureaucracy, and by adhering to a politics of patronage to establish a large coalition of support.

Japan may be an advanced economy but it has suffered from nearly two decades of stagnant growth, a drop in living standards, and having to cope with the huge impact of the Great Recession. It also suffers from a multitude of social problems such as high unemployment (now nearly 6%), an ageing population and very low birth rates, which, in turn, are due to very late marriages in a conservative society that frowns on birth outside wedlock. These problems and the LDP’s refusal to initiate any change in its form of governance led to its comprehensive defeat. The DPJ, while reiterating its belief in the free market system has pledged to take up the interests of consumers, small enterprises and non-profit orga nisations. This is in strong contrast to the overtly close relations between the LDP and Japan’s big export businesses. What struck a chord with the electorate was the DPJ’s insistence on reforming the powerful bureaucracy in the country in a manner that would make it responsive to a democratically elected government and not vice versa, as it was during the LDP regime. Indeed, after forming the government on 16 September, the DPJ leader and new prime minister Yukio Hatoyama named a cabinet minister in charge of a newly created National Strategy Bureau. This bureau will oversee a centralised policy planning and implementation apparatus that would end the decades-old practice of the bureaucracy drafting plans for various ministries who then had little choice but to approve them.

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