Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Some elections count more than others, and never more than when a longstanding dominant party is sent packing. I’ve been lucky enough to witness turning points in four countries on two continents.
France, India, Italy, now Japan — all have rejected one-party dominance for the rough and tumble of alternating majorities. In each case, I was fortunate to behold history.
Japan’s election on Sunday marked the end of an era that started not long after World War Two and saw Japan rise from the ashes of defeat to a global economic power. Japan’s revival took root in an iron triangle locking the Liberal Democratic Party, bureaucrats and Japanese industry.
Now the LDP is tasting the same bitter fruit as paramount parties in other countries whose voters decided a few decades in power for one party were enough. The circumstances in each country were different, but the democratic impulse was similar and the result much the same.
I watched Japan’s election returns from the rocky Pacific, with the satellite TV reception suprisingly crisp on a ferry heading south.
A typhoon is headed towards mainland Japan and travel and other ways of life have been caught up in its headwinds, while the impact of the apparently changing political climate has only just begun.
When you pack scores of journalists into a room and they’re all trying to listen to, photograph, and film one person – like the head of a political party – it’s easy to get blocked by the people and things in front of you.
For a photographer, this is the kiss of death. It means not getting a picture. Next, your phone rings with an angry editor on the other end - a brief conversation is followed by a lengthy period of woe and despair. For this and other reasons, photographers go to great lengths to get a good photo position.
Japanese voters debated change as they participated in an election on Sunday that looks set to give the opposition Democratic Party of Japan a historic victory over the Liberal Democratic Party that has ruled for most of the past 50 years.
Reuters reporters fanned out across Tokyo to talk to voters, and here’s what some of those at polling stations had to say:
Here is a quick tutorial on seven words you might find helpful to follow the Japanese election on Sunday.
どぶ板選挙 （Dobuita Senkyo) means a grassroots election campaign. The term became popular to illustrate how veteran lawmakers from the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), struggling in the campaign and worried about losing their previously safe seats, have been running around in their constituency to meet as many voters in person as possible. ”Dobuita” means wooden boards laid across a ditch to cover and “senkyo” means election. So the term suggests that candidates visit voters door-to-door, walking on the “dobuita” to enter homes. But the Japanese election law forbids candidates to visit individual houses during the official campaign period.
Observers of Japanese politics who have long thought the country was ripe for a real two-party system are watching Sunday’s election with a dual sense of incredulity — surprise that it has taken so long to oust the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and surprise that it finally looks like happening.
Media surveys show the decade-old opposition Democratic Party is set to win the poll for parliament’s powerful lower house – and probably by a landslide, ushering in party leader Yukio Hatoyama at the head of a government pledged to spend more on consumers and workers than the companies that benefited most from LDP policies.
Opinion polls show the opposition Democratic Party of Japan is set for a runaway victory in Sunday’s general election, but voters are showing none of the enthusiasm that swept Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency last year.
When I talked to more than a dozen voters in a small town near Hiroshima, western Japan, they were interested in the election and had a lot to say about it. And most were looking for change — but not with a great deal of fervour.
Britain's Association of Investment Companies has UK investors who run Japanese equity funds whether they think the general election on Sunday will have a positive impact on the country, which is slowly emerging from recession.
Their answers can be found here, but the consensus was that the Democratic Party of Japan would defeat the ruling Liberal Democrat Party and that this would result in more consumer friendly policy or economic revival through higher living standards.
Financial journalists spend a lot of time surveying market economists ahead of macro-economic data releases to find out how they think the next CPI or GDP number is going to turn out. A poll 20 or 30 economists gives a market median forecast, which will determine how traders react when the data comes out. If the figure beats expectations and points to a strong economy and likely rate rises, the currency will jump, and vice versa.
But how good are these forecasts? Why react if there's no track record for accuracy? Economists have a pretty good feel for how reliable forecasts are for different indicators, but it would easier to have a number that tells us how reliable forecasts are for data such as GDP, jobs data or the CPI?
Japan’s far north, once home to pet projects of scions of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, looks set to become an even hotter bed of opposition Democratic Party success in this weekend’s Japanese election capped, if polls and analysts are correct, by a local son becoming the nation’s next prime minister.
But while the country decides whether opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama will become premier, voters in Hokkaido will also decide the fate of a certain disgraced former finance, trade and farms minister who is battling for his political life.