Raw Japan

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Japan’s long, hot political summer

July 22, 2009

A campaign that began with apologies and tears by the prime minister may end the same way if, as surveys suggest, Japan’s conservative ruling party suffers a historic defeat in 40 days.

Prime Minister Taro Aso dissolved parliament’s powerful lower house Tuesday for an Aug. 30 election that could well see his Liberal Democratic Party ousted for only the second time since its founding more than half a century ago.  

Aso, the proud grandson of a premier, apologised to LDP lawmakers, and later to the public, for a string of gaffes and policy flip-flops that have eroded support rates for his government and his party since taking office last September.

“Before I speak of my determination and resolve ahead of the dissolution, I first want to apologise,” Aso said.

“I have only one wish: I hope that all of the candidates for the lower house election present today will be back together,” Aso added, tears welling up in his eyes and his chin quivering as he addressed the assembled LDP members of parliament.

“To do this, there is nothing else to do but unite and fight together.”

Several of those same MPs had tried just last week to replace their unpopular leader in hopes of improving their fortunes at the polls.


The 68-year-old Aso — Japan’s fourth prime minister in as many years — had been expected by many to call an election soon after taking office.

But lower-than-expected support rates and a worsening of Japan’s economy amid the global financial crisis stayed his hand. Unfortunately for the LDP, things just got even worse.

“There have been several occasions when we could have won for sure,” Transport Minister Kazuyoshi Kaneko told a news conference.

“This is the worst situation in terms of political timing.”

Surveys show the opposition Democratic Party of Japan with its best-ever shot at taking power as voters worried about a recession and fraying health and pension systems appear ready to take a chance on change, even if harbouring some doubts as to whether the opposition is really ready to govern, with DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama becoming Japan’s new prime minister.

The campaign doesn’t formally start until Aug. 18, but lawmakers have been in de facto campaign mode for months. Many scurried back to their constituencies soon after the lower house was dissolved with a simple announcement by Speaker Yohei Kono, followed by three ”Banzai” cheers by the MPs.

The election will heated in more ways than one.

No Japanese general election has been held in August — when temperatures and humidity soar — for over a century, while the 40-day period between dissolution and the vote is also rare, being the maximum interim allowed by the constitution.

Senior opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Akira Nagatsuma put the political climate in persepective: “The longest and hottest summer in Japan has just started.”

Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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