The Democratic Party of Japan has not unexpectedly crushed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in an unprecedented landslide, ending their almost uninterrupted 50 year reign with a spectacular victory which sees them on track to seize 300 seats in the 480 seat Diet.
The forecast crushing defeat was widely predicted, with the government unable to control record levels of unemployment or deliver any convincing reforms after the loss of Koizumi; Rozen Aso’s endless gaffes and increasing unpopularity doubtless also contributed.
Political observers tie the scale of the defeat more to exasperation with the LDP’s incompetence and a desire for substantive political change than to any great enthusiasm for the DPJ itself, although as a basically unproven party it is not yet clear how they will perform.
Actual discussion of policies was given limited attention throughout the campaign, with emotional appeals instead being the campaigning mainstay.
The DPJ’s basic domestic policies are to curtail the overpowering influence of the civil service and introduce more benefits; it claims it can fund increases in spending without raising consumption tax, through savings on the bloated civil service bureaucracy.
It also claims it can introduce a $10 hourly minimum wage throughout the country (a substantial increase on prevailing lowlevel wages in many areas).
It has also stated its intent to prepare Japan to effectively receive more immigrants, in particular through allowing permanent residents to vote in local elections, though the LDP also notionally supported this.
Where international policy is concerned, it promises pro-China policies and a reduction in the US military forces stationed in Japan, though with no significant change in alignment.
Critics are intensely sceptical of its ability to fund any of its promised spending increases without increasing the tax burden, strangling private enterprise and further increasing the national debt.
The LDP itself has enjoyed near uninterrupted political power throughout the post-war period, though the existence of multiple competing factions within the LDP, in effect parties unto themselves, ensured an unorthodox form of opposition was present even if the actual opposition was unable to affect policies.
This system may very well have been shattered (though the DPJ has its own internal policy factions), although a lacklustre DPJ performance would likely quickly see the prior status quo reasserted; it seems the real hope of many voters is to see a substantially reformed LDP returned to contest future elections.