Aso's govt braces for poll defeat in Japan

Seismic political shift gives opposition party upper hand ahead of Sundays elections

In Poll Mode: Masks depicting Japan’s opposition Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama (left and second left) and Japanese Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Taro Aso on display at Ogawa Studios, a mask-making company, in Saitama near Tokyo on Friday. Reuters

After the votes in Sunday’s general election have been counted, the 28-year-old will probably win his seat south of Tokyo, thanks largely to his name: the constituency’s most recent MP was his father, Junichiro Koizumi, one of Japan’s most popular postwar prime ministers. But unlike his illustrious father, Koizumi Jr can expect to begin his political career on the opposition benches.

If the polls are correct, his party, one of the most formidable electoral machines in modern times, is about to become the victim of a seismic political shift in the world’s second biggest economy.

After being governed for 53 of the past 54 years by the LDP, voters are preparing to send the main opposition, the Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), into office with an overwhelming majority. In an indication of the scale of the defeat facing prime minister Taro Aso, a poll in Friday’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper suggested the LDP’s strength in the lower house could be more than halved to about 100 seats, with the opposition taking as many as 320 seats in the 480-seat chamber.

If economic meltdown was not enough to contend with, Aso’s hapless administration has been dragged into the mire by charges of sleaze and incompetence, their corrosive effects magnified by his knack for gaffes. As Japan grapples with rising unemployment, population decline and a creaking state pension, the certainties of the postwar era have disappeared, and with them the LDP’s sense of entitlement as the natural party of government.

For the first time, the LDP is contending with an attractive opposition, boosted by its control of the upper house and a growing sense, even among conservative voters in its rural heartland, that the party that steered Japan out of the ashes of war into an economic miracle must finally make way.

Aso appeared to concede as much, telling voters in Osaka on Friday: “We have failed to make clear the virtues of conservatism. We regret that we haven’t sent a clear message in recent years.” Despite its dominance in the polls, the DPJ remains an unknown quantity. The party has been criticised for its failure to explain how it will pay for ambitious spending plans that include a minimum wage, child allowances, subsidies for farmers and more money for education and welfare.

The Guardian

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