Monday, August 31, 2009

Gigantic Win for DPJ in Japan

Yes, the Democratic Party of Japan has finally upended the Liberal Democrats' long-standing dominance in the Lower House of the Diet. From the BBC:
The DPJ has won 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house, ending 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), NHK TV says.

DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama hailed the win as a revolution and said people were "fed up" with the governing party.

Prime Minister Taro Aso has said he will resign as head of the LDP, taking responsibility for the defeat.

Japan is suffering record unemployment and its economy is struggling to emerge from a bruising recession.

The DPJ has said it will shift the focus of government from supporting corporations to helping consumers and workers.
This is a significant move to the left for an until-now-notoriously-conservative country. It's also a major vote against the old "Japan Inc" model of close corporate, bureaucratic and political cooperation—Hatoyama's passing shot at "supporting corporations" is clear enough on that.

The size of that win, though—it's truly shocking. Japan has been governed by coalitions for most of living memory, which limited the power of anybody in the party to actually govern the country. It likely had a lot to do with Japan's infamously powerful bureaucracy. Yet now, assuming that they hold the Upper House, the DPJ can run the country as a straight majority. They've already pledged to appoint top-level Ministry supervisors, to ban amakudari (the practice of giving retiring bureaucrats lucrative jobs at companies they once "supervised") and to cut the size of the civil service. I find the latter a bit unlikely, but the rest are long overdue changes that I'm sure the public would support.

The relationship with the United States is likely to change too. Traditional LDP-style American alignment is probably gone, and with it certain unspoken agreements on American basing in Japan and Japanese support of American foreign policy. Ichiro Ozawa is one of the most powerful men in the DPJ, and an outspoken supporter of Japanese international interventionism, but since he's not its titular head it's hard to say whether the DPJ will embrace it. They may not have the option: I wouldn't expect peace constitution reform under the DPJ any time soon.

What may make the most difference for ordinary Japanese is the changes to social welfare. There will be a minimum guaranteed pension, a minimum wage, and a child welfare stipend. All are long overdue, and almost certainly intended to deal with Japan's savings/consumption imbalance, horrific gini index, low birth rate, and other socioeconomic problems.

It's a positive change, and I think it'll have positive effects throughout the region.

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