The Japanese are set to elect a new government three weeks from now,
August 30. The Democratic Party of Japan is expected to end the ruling
party's five-decade hold on power. The Democrats are gaining momentum
in the polls by promising voters more money in their wallets and less
in the hands of bureaucrats. The ruling party calls that vision a
Different platforms, different strategies
The political campaign ads alone show a contrast in strategies between Japan's major parties.
opposition Democratic Party of Japan calls on people to treat the
country like family. Party leader Yukio Hatoyama promises a society
that "creates bonds."
There is no sign of Prime Minister Taro
Aso in his Liberal Democratic Party's ad. Just four Japanese characters
that read "Sei-Ken Kou-Tai" or "change in government", which is the
DPJ's campaign pitch. The narrator asks what change really means, and
then adds, "we demand action."
The Liberal Democratic Party
hopes it can cast enough doubt on its challenger so voters forget its
own problems. Since the last general election, the LDP has been hit by
a series of scandals and has seen two prime ministers resign with
dismal approval ratings.
PM Aso's approval ratings plummets
ratings for current leader Mr. Aso have plummeted, in part because of
the country's severe recession, which has pushed the unemployment rate
to a six-year high.
LDP member Kuniko Inoguchi describes the prime minister's challenge.
needs to say this: There is no one single policy that can get us out of
this recession. There will need to be a set of programs and he has done
everything he can to install those policies," said Inoguchi.
policies start with a promise to create two million new jobs in the
next three years, and a pledge to boost disposable income by about a
thousand dollars for each household in the next decade.
Aso also promises to reduce education fees for young children and
create a scholarship program to help pay for high school and university
education. Those proposals are aimed at tackling the country's falling
birthrate. He plans to pay for those programs and help fund social
security by raising the sales tax to five percent.
platform has not brought the LDP more support so far, but Yukari Sato,
an LDP member of parliament, expects that to change. He says voters
will realize the DPJ lacks substantive policies to back up its call for
"This is not just about the four-letter word "Sei-Ken
Kou-Tai" or administration change. It is so easy to hum but it is not
easy to digest as a nation," he said.
But the LDP is fighting a
tough battle. Although it has dominated Japanese politics since the
early 1950s, over the past few years, its scandals, lackluster leaders
and nearly 19 years of weak economic performance have undermined its
Hatoyama's populist message boosts DPJ
momentum is on the side of the DPJ, where Hatoyama is finding traction
with his populist message. He promises to cut the sales tax on cars,
cut taxes for home buyers and lower road tolls. He also promises free
high school education and a monthly allowance for children under the
age of 15. Combined, his programs are estimated to cost nearly $180
Takashi Uesugi is a journalist and a former aide to
senior LDP politician Kunio Hatoyama, who is the brother of the DPJ
leader. Uesugi says the DPJ proposals appeal to those who are tired of
He says Hatoyama may be popular, but voters are not
necessarily supporting his policies. They are sending a message to the
LDP: "they have had enough."
The election will be held August
30, and the latest polls show Hatoyama's party leading by a
double-digit margin. If the party maintains that lead, and many
political analysts expect it to, he will become the first prime
minister from the DPJ, and only the third who was not a member of the
LDP since the 1950s.