Asia Scope


Jason Miks wonders if we are experiencing the beginning of the end for one-party rule in Japan…

Although Japan isn’t officially a one-party state, it has certainly seemed that way for more than half a century, with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) having been in power virtually uninterrupted since the so-called 1955 system was established.

But after another local election thumping for his party, this time in bellwether Tokyo, Prime Minister Taro Aso is set to announce that the House of Representatives will be dissolved later this month for a general election on August 30.

It’s about time. Since the still popular Junichiro Koizumi stepped down in 2006, Japan has had three prime ministers – the youthful, nationalist and still hungry for power Shinzo Abe, the dour but supposedly safe Yasuo Fukuda and incumbent Taro Aso, whom the LDP hoped would woo voters with his earthy humour.

But with the economy still in the doldrums, 50 million lost pension records, a string of ministerial resignations and the prime minister’s foot taking up permanent residence in his mouth, Japanese have apparently had enough.

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And rightly so. Handing over the reins of power once without consulting the electorate is, arguably, acceptable – especially given how convincing the LDP’s general election win was the previous year.

But doing so twice more is no way to run a democracy.

Of course it’s not altogether clear how much will change should the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) manage to seize power, with even seasoned political observers here struggling sometimes to discern the genuine policy differences between the two (perhaps not all that surprising, then, to know that DPJ heavyweight and former leader Ichiro Ozawa was once a member of the LDP). And many Japanese I speak to already seem resigned to the idea that a DPJ administration won’t be a whole lot different from an LDP one.

But it is a start. And in this case, for now at least, the very fact that there will probably be change at all is as important as what that change actually turns out to be.