Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
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.
Tech-savvy Japan is home to many high-tech companies and more than 70 percent of its people use the Internet. But politics on the Web falls far behind.
Both politicians and voters can be found online. Lawmakers have their own blogs and channels on sites such as niconico and youtube, and political parties such as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and main opposition Democratic Party of Japan have websites. A couple of politicians are even tweeting on ”Twitter“.
Japan, perhaps the most nervous neighbor of unpredictable North Korea, is also the least able to overtly make its fears felt, after this week’s nuclear test.
Analysts point out the combination of Tokyo’s history of antagonism with the North and the fact that Pyongyang boasts missiles that could hit almost anywhere in Japan pose particular risks for the world’s second largest economy.
When Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party, became teary-eyed as he announced his intention to stay in his post despite a funding scandal plaguing his bid to become prime minister, he may have won some sympathy.
Whether he gets to keep his job, though, is another matter.
The pugnacious political veteran has been trying to oust Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party since he bolted the long-ruling party in 1993, helping replace it briefly with a reformist coalition, only to see his former conservative colleagues return to power the next year.
The image, borrowed from a famed 13th century episode in which a huge typhoon destroyed a Mongol fleet that set out to invade Japan, captured the shock impact of the scandal, which is clouding prospects of Ozawa’s Democratic Party winning an election this year.
Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party has a shot at grabbing power this year from the Liberal Democrats – ending more than five decades of almost unbroken rule – and many in the political and business establishment are wary.
Can the Democrats really govern? What will it mean if they really take power? While trying to answer these questions, one thing is clear to everyone: The Democrats can no longer be ignored.
Japan’s opposition Democratic Party is often seen as a fractious bunch prone to policy and personal feuds, but with the scent of election victory in the air, party leaders are preaching a unified message to their troops: don’t let down your guard.
“We have decided not to make predictions about the election,” Naoto Kan, a senior party executive told me last week. “The important thing is to keep on our toes and make preparations, because we are the ones who are asking the people to choose us.”