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Democratic Party of Japan crushes Taro Aso's Liberal Democratic Party
TOKYO — The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has won a historic landslide victory while the Liberal Democratic Party — which had ruled for over half a century almost uninterrupted — suffered a crushing defeat, losing nearly two-thirds of its seats in the House of Representatives.
The DPJ now has more than 300 parliamentarians in the more powerful lower house while the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been reduced to 119 seats.
“The Japanese people are slow to change; but once they decide to do something, they can move very quickly, as you’ve seen tonight,” said Takashi Koyama, visiting professor of politics at Akita University.
The DPJ, formed in 1996, takes power for the first time as Japan struggles to emerge from the worst recession of the post-war era, against the background of a shrinking population, ballooning national debt and a welfare system creaking under the strain of record unemployment and rising poverty.
The new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose grandfather was a founder of the defeated LDP, becomes leader of the world’s second largest economy, on pledges to support families with a monthly allowance for all children of 26,000 yen ($277) and to reform Japan’s powerful bureaucracy.
The DPJ plans to pay for its manifesto, which also includes a pledge not to raise the consumption tax, by eliminating wasteful spending on huge public works projects and numerous quasi-governmental agencies and organizations. Having portrayed itself as the party that would stand up to America, as the election drew near and victory looked certain, the DPJ backed off from some of its earlier pledges, such as ending the refueling mission that supports the U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.
Hatoyama had also criticized Japan’s shift to U.S.-style free-market capitalism, but this was more an attack on domestic government policies than any hostility to America. Indeed Hatoyama intends to pursue a free trade agreement with the U.S., as well as one with Europe.
Ousted Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose support had dipped as low as 18 percent this year, found his image as a wealthy bon vivant detached from the suffering of ordinary people during the recession and increasingly out of step with the mood of the country.