Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
from Global News Journal:
Five years ago, Japanese voters seeking change from stale politics and a stagnant economy backed maverick leader Junichiro Koizumi's calls for reform, handing his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a huge win in an election for parliament's powerful lower house.
Two years, several scandals and one incompetent prime minister later, they dealt the same LDP a stinging setback in a 2007 upper house election, creating a "Twisted Parliament" where the upper chamber could stall bills and delay policies.
The gridlock toppled the LDP's Shinzo Abe and his successor, each after about a year in office, and finally last summer the same electorate -- still longing for something new and better -- swept the novice Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to power, ending more than half a century of almost non-stop LDP rule and ejecting Taro Aso from the PM's seat. The DPJ, voters hoped, would make good on promises to change how Japan was governed, ending bureaucratic control of policies, and somehow ensuring that Japan emerged from two decades of the doldrums.
Now, after less than a year of chaotic policymaking, indecisive leadership and more scandals under DPJ premier Yukio Hatoyama, followed by sudden talk of a sales tax hike from former grassroots activist Naoto Kan, who took over when Hatoyama suddenly quit, frustrated voters did it again.
Name tags on their chairs so their “teachers” can take attendance; instructions on how to greet their elders politely; orders to turn up on time.
Rookie lawmakers in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party are, critics say, being treated like first-grade students instead of a talent pool the government can draw on to tackle tough policy problems from a bulging debt to strained ties with Washington.
Historic is usually a word that makes my skin crawl when I see it in the news. Journalists are prone to overuse it, so when I saw it in our election stories I had to stop myself deleting it — because this election truly is historic.
The Liberal Democratic Party had never lost an election since its founding in 1955. Even when it lost power for a few months in 1993/94, it was because of LDP lawmakers defecting rather than an election loss.
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.
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:
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.
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.