Inexperience triumphs over incompetence


I wouldn't describe the post-election situation in Japan as a typhoon, as most Japanese don't get very excited over politics. As a rule they are pretty cynical about politicians, and with good reason. Still, Sunday's election truly ushered in a new era. Landslide is too mild a term to describe what happened. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) dealt the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a crushing blow, winning 308 of 480 seats in the lower house, with the LDP talking only 119 seats. Prior to the election, the LDP held a 300-112 advantage.

Since its formation in 1955, the LDP has dominated national politics in Japan. Only once, in 1993, was the LDP pushed out of power by a coalition of smaller parties. But even then the LDP remained the largest party and served only 10 months in opposition before regaining power.

Rather than being a vote of confidence in the DPJ, Sunday's election results are an expression of widespread dissatisfaction with the LDP. The global financial crisis has hit Japan's economy hard, and the unemployment rate has risen to a record 5.7 percent. Since popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left office in 2006, the LDP has failed to find a leader who could gain the confidence of the public. Japan's latest leader was the worst: Little was expected of Taro Aso when he took office, and he delivered even less.

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In contrast, the Japanese are optimistic about their new government, which will be led by incoming Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. In a post-election nationwide telephone survey, 71 percent of respondents said they had high expectations of the DPJ leadership. However, only 54 percent said they believed the new party in power would be able to implement the policies outlined in its manifesto.

Previously, the LDP had managed to stay in power by claiming its opponents lacked experience in governing. This election demonstrated the triumph of inexperience over incompetence. As the DPJ takes the reins of power for the first time, 143 of their representatives are rookies with no previous experience in the national legislature. They will discover soon enough that governing is a much more difficult task than criticizing the policies of others.

Russell Board is a longtime contributor to WORLD Magazine, covering the news from Asia.


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