Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
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.
Northern Hokkaido, once a stronghold of the Liberal Democratic Party with never-ending highway, tunnel and bridge projects as testament, deserted the long-ruling party with all but three seats going to the Democratic Party, including prime minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama.
LDP losers in Hokkaido included former foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura, head of the party’s largest faction, Tsutomu Takebe, a Koizumi Cabinet loyalist, and former finance Shoichi Nakagawa, whose family had represented the middle of the vast prefecture for almost half a century and whose struggles were chronicled last week in this blog.
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.
“Be nice to kids too,” shouts a kid with his hand raised.
“OK, OK. Here, I’ll give you 26,000 yen worth of toppings,” responds the ramen chef who looks suspiciously like Japan’s opposition Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama, as he sprinkles more toppings on a bowl of noodles.
With Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party at risk of losing power for only the second time in more than a half-century in an election on Sunday, the party is stepping up its campaign against the opposition with a new series of Internet attack ads – a rarity in a country that has leaned towards the polite and boring in election tactics.
Attack advertising is in its infancy and Japanese election debates are staid affairs between men in suits who take their turns to speak and don’t get angry.
The election on Sunday is a battle between the heavyweight LDP and the up-and-coming Democrats, who have a big lead in the polls, but the only big punches you’ll see thrown are among tiny finger dolls on a puppet stage.
To some people a national flag is little more than a piece of cloth, while to others it is a sacred symbol that embodies a country’s ideals. It was the latter that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso apparently tried to score some easy points with this week in the run-up to the Aug. 30 election that voter surveys show his Liberal Democratic Party party is likely to lose.
In a televised debate, Aso accused the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan of defacing the national flag, commonly known locally as the Hinomaru or “sun circle”, at a gathering for one of its candidates in southern Japan this month.
There were no knock-out punches, little soaring rhetoric and the 90 minute debate between Prime Minister Taro Aso (pictured left) and opposition Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama (right) ended awkwardly when Hatoyama approached his rival for a final farewell, only to see Aso turn his back and leave the stage.
Japan’s conservative ruling party, torn by internal feuds and facing a possible loss in an Aug. 30 poll, is making attacks on the opposition Democratic Party of a sort rare in a country where many have had an allergy to Western-style negative campaigns.
The strategy — portraying the novice Democrats as weak on security and profligate on spending – prompted a harsh reply from the opposition, who polls show have their best-ever chance of defeating unpopular Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the election, ending its more than half a century of nearly unbroken rule.
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.