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New party wins landslide victory in Japan

September 10th, 2009

In what looks like a carbon copy of the U.S. political climate of last year, Japan elected a new ruling party that campaigned on the promise of change.   

On Sunday, Aug. 30, millions of Japanese voted to oust the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in exchange for Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) by a nearly 3 to 1 margin.

The LDP has held or shared power in Japan for 62 of the last 63 years.  

The DPJ was able to grab 308 spots in the powerful 480-seat lower house compared to the mere 119 now held by the LDP.  

Party leader and presumptive new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said in a New York Times article, “This has been a revolutionary election. The people have shown the courage to take politics into their own hands.”

This new election, however, is not necessarily the best scenario for U.S.-Japanese relations.  

Unlike the LDP, which has been historically dependent on the U.S., the DPJ has been more independent, and, at times, even critical of the United States throughout its campaigns.

One of these issues is in the area of foreign policy. 

Hatoyama has said that he may begin quickly by recalling the Japanese naval forces on a mission to refuel American warships in and around Afghanistan.  

Also, Hatoyama plans to reopen talks on a deal that will move the Futenma Marine airfield off the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam – and require Japan to foot the bill.

Yet, the Obama administration is maintaining a positive outlook on the new situation. A statement released on Sunday said, “We are confident that the strong U.S.-Japan alliance and the close partnership between our two countries will continue to flourish under the new leadership.” 

The statement also said, “President Obama looks forward to working closely with the new Japanese prime minister on a broad rand of global, regional and bilateral issues.”

According to Pamela Mason, a John Carroll University political science professor, “The White House needs to realize – and I think it does realize – that Japan is a dynamic nation in a dynamic and fast-changing region, and that the Cold-War framework of U.S.-Japanese relations will need reworking.”

In regards to domestic policy, the LDP has adopted what is known as “trickle up economics,” which aims at putting money in the hands of the people.  

To combat the problem of a quickly shrinking and aging population, the LDP has pledged to pay about $3,000 a year per child to families in order to encourage women to have babies.   

Also, to stimulate the Japanese economy, the party has pledged to pay about $1,000 a month to unemployed citizens while they search for a job.

“Japan faces daunting demographic challenges and its export-focused economy has been hard-hit by the global slowdown,” said Mason. “Japanese people are looking for new ideas.  It remains to be seen how the new government will deliver.”

However, the news out of Japan isn’t all bad. 

On Monday, Yukio Hatoyama pledged to make good on a campaign promise to combat global warming. 

According to The New York Times, Hatoyama plans to make changes that will cut Japan’s green house gas emissions by 25 percent in the next 10 years.  

This change will put Japan at the forefront of the fight against climate change.