August 31, 2009

Landslide!


In November's U.S. election, the Democrats won by a landslide with 259 seats, compared to 176 for the Republicans. After Sunday's election, it looks like Japan's Democratic Party (DPJ) will have an enormous 189 seat majority over the LDP in the 480 seat Lower House of the Diet. Now that's a landslide.

Add to this the amazing fact that for the first time in fifty years, the LDP will be completely displaced from power. The "L" in LDP stands for "Liberal," but it's considered "conservative" and friendly to U.S. interests. Unfortunately, it evolved over the years into the we'll-do-anything-to-stay-in-power party.

Back during the 1990s when the Japanese government was "stimulating" everything in sight, the LDP was the bridge-to-nowhere, bid-rigging and vote-buying party. They should rebrand themselves and become the "Libertarian" DP. The current platform sure ain't working. (Frankly, nothing would these days.)

According to exit polls, more people voted against the LDP than for the (actually liberal) Democratic Party. The general public kept the LDP in power for fifty years. As with the U.S., there's a big difference between voter discontent and wanting to radically switch political directions.

Outgoing LDP PM Taro Aso and his ministers didn't help their cause with a non-stop series of faux pas and "Kinsley gaffes"--especially highly impolitic statements about Japan's precariously aging demographics--that provoked storms of self-righteous outrage but no real solutions from the opposition.

A recent classic was: "Elderly people have no talents other than working." Aso's spokesman later clarified: "What the prime minister really meant was that building a vigorous aging society requires job opportunities for elderly people." Aso was certainly the most entertaining PM since Koizumi.

The old regime was easy to criticize, but the DPJ doesn't have much room to maneuver. Farm price supports? The LDP did that for decades. Toll-free highways? Yeah, the traffic jams aren't bad enough now. Free high schools? That's the one good idea. Public high schools charge students onerous fees to make ends meet.

Add to that a new EIC for kids (attempting to raise the birth rate) and tax cuts. Japan's public debt burden is already worse than ours. Where's this magic money going to come from? The DPJ's best strategy is to do as little as possible and still be around when the economy improves and claim credit.

One commonality between the Taro Aso and incoming PM Yukio Hatoyama is that they both did postgraduate work at Stanford. Current SDF refueling support for U.S. Afghanistan operations will probably be curtailed in the near future, but U.S.-Japan relations should continue on an even keel.

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