Japan’s landslide election threw out the ruling party, but was really a conservative revoltby Kenneth Neil Cukier / September 23, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Japan has long been called a “democracy within a democracy.” Though it held elections, the country had kept the Liberal Democratic party (and its forbearers, the Liberals and the Democrats) in power virtually uninterrupted since the end of the second world war. So the election of 30th August was historic, not just because it is the first time an opposition party has taken control of Japan’s government, but because it represents the beginning of the end of Japan’s postwar political system.
On election night the ruling LDP lost 177 of its 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house of Japan’s parliament, the Diet. The Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), an eclectic collection of ex-LDPers, socialists, right-wingers and former bureaucrats, took nearly all of them. The landslide was aided by a massive 70 per cent turnout. Yet on election night no cars honked, and no youths leapt into fountains. Such public stoicism is a sign of uncertainty and unease. The Japanese people voted against the incumbents: the DPJ won because they weren’t the LDP. Despite their many campaign pledges—mainly to create a new state-run social safety net—they only had one well-thought out policy: to win power. Their leadership even refused to allow an internal debate over their party platform, for fear of looking divided.