Print options

December 16, 2012

Japan's Governing Party Resoundingly Ousted in Shift to Right

Japan's governing party has suffered a crushing election defeat. Results of parliamentary elections Sunday show the next government will be formed by the Liberal Democratic Party. The conservatives and their allies are expected to take a more hawkish approach in confronting the country's neighbors, but what they plan to do to reverse Japan's long economic decline remains murky.

Japanese voters, as forecast, have tossed out the party they brought into power three years ago.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), crippled by defections of lawmakers from its ranks, lost more than two-thirds of its seats in the more powerful 480-seat lower house of parliament (officially the House of Representatives).

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda conceded at a brief news conference.

Noda says the defeat is his personal responsibility, therefore he will resign as head of the party.

Among the dozen parties fielding candidates, at the top with a landslide victory is the Liberal Democratic Party, capturing a comfortable majority of seats. It governed Japan virtually uninterrupted from 1955 until 2009.

The LDP, Japan's traditional conservative party, allied with the New Komei Party (which is closely linked to the controversial Buddhist sect Soka Gakkai), is poised to have a two-thirds majority in the lower house. That will allow it to over ride any vetoes of legislation by the upper house (also known as the House of Councilors), where the Democratic Party of Japan is the largest single party.

The next upper house election is expected in July.

Poised to become Japan's next prime minister is a third-generation politician, and relative of two former prime ministers, Shinzo Abe, who held the job briefly from 2006 into the following year.

Abe says he realizes 100 percent of the electorate does not believe in the LDP, despite the party's resounding victory.

Abe, speaking on the quasi-official NHK network, says the reason the DPJ lost is because it horribly mismanaged the government for the past three years. He promises the LDP will try to stay on its toes and live up to the hopes of the people.

Abe, who is 58 and known for his hawkish stance towards China, says he does not desire to raise tensions with Beijing, but there is no doubt the Senkaku islands are Japanese.

China also claims the tiny islands, which it calls the Diaoyu, in the East China Sea, saying they have been its inherent territory since “ancient times.” Tension over the islands has spiked dramatically this year.

Japanese voters failed to muster substantial enthusiasm for several new parties, which vowed to upend the traditional political scene.

They include parties taking a strong anti-nuclear stance following reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant, which was swamped by a March 11th, 2011 tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Abe is considered an advocate of nuclear power. The Kyodo news agency says the LDP's strong electoral performance is likely to mean Japan will retract its nuclear phase-out goal announced under the DPJ government. All but two of the country's 50 nuclear power reactors are offline.

One of the new parties captured about as many seats as the DPJ managed to retain. The Japan Restoration Party was started by Shintaro Ishihara. The 80-year-old, known for his harsh comments against China and other foreign countries, quit as Tokyo governor to launch a new national political movement.

Ishihara, who won a seat in parliament Sunday, joined forces with populist Osaka governor Toru Hashimoto, who quickly folded his new party into Ishihara's.

Ishihara favors revising the pacifist Article 9 of the country's constitution to allow Japan to again have a normal army and engage in collective self defense.

Ishihara says the LDP has done little to try to accomplish this, but he is hopeful now about a new constitution as Abe has expressed strong support for the idea.

Voter surveys found the economy, rather than geopolitical worries or anxiety about nuclear plants, as their primary concern. Despite that, the electorate is returning to power the same party that was at the helm during Japan's long economic decline.

Abe promises to end deflation, lower the value of the yen and grow an economy mired in a deflationary spiral for years. Some critics contend Abe's economic plan essentially consists of a massive increase of government spending that will further swell a debt load already twice the size of Japan's economy.

Abe is expected to officially be elected prime minister in a session of the lower house on December 26.