The World from Berlin 'A Mandate to Put an End to Japan's Postwar Period'

Japanese voters came out in record numbers Sunday to dethrone the party which has ruled their country for over 50 years. German commentators welcome the change but worry that the future government might not have what it takes to cure this country of its economic malaise and social ills.

In a landslide victory, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and its leader, Yukio Hatoyama, were elected to lead an ailing Japan.
AP

In a landslide victory, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and its leader, Yukio Hatoyama, were elected to lead an ailing Japan.


Japanese voters made history Sunday by by voting out of power the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan almost uninterruptedly since 1955.

"People had been fed up for a long time," Yoshio Matsumura, a shopkeeper from Saitama prefecture, told the Associated Press. "Their frustration reached a boiling point, and they finally rose up." The frustration ended up meaning that the LDP lost two-thirds of its seats in Japan's lower house of parliament.

The man now most likely to take the reins is Yukio Hatoyama, 62, the leader of the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), a loose alliance of LDP defectors, socialists and progressives, which won 308 seats of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament. Hatomaya is expected to assemble a government in mid-September.

The DPJ is primarily focused on social programs, lowering taxes and helping Japan assert a more independent and assertive role on the international stage. According to Hatoyama, however, its main focus will be on lifting Japan out of the worst economic situation it has been in since World War II.

The challenges the DPJ faces are many. Japan only recently emerged from a recession, its unemployment rate climbed to a record high of 5.7 percent in July, spending has tightened in response to continued worries and it has the highest public debt of any industrialized nation -- all of which is complicated by a swiftly aging population.

All this leads many, including German commentators, to wonder how the DPJ can pay for its ambitious proposals. Although German commentators believe that there must be some sort of change for things to get better in Japan, they aren't convinced that the DPJ will succeed in effecting the sorely needed improvements.

SPIEGEL ONLINE writes:

"Japan's old guard had lost touch with reality, and it was the Japanese who had to suffer the consequences. But they have now put an end to what was practically the LDP's one-party rule. This fact -- rather than any issues -- is actually the really historically important outcome of this election."

"Having simply had enough of the LDP, the Japanese decided to take a risk on a political insurrection -- but in a way that is typical for the harmony-loving island and its distinctive group mentality. After years of slow agony off the radar of most of the world, a consensus formed that the LDP had been ruined. And, in the end, a massive stampede broke out that saw even traditional LDP voters make a collective sprint over to the DPJ's side."

"In doing so, the voters have finally put themselves in a position to transform the crusty postwar system of so-called Japan Inc. But now Hatoyama has to get more specific and explain to the Japanese exactly how he plans to lead the country out of crisis. The future prime minister doesn't have much time, nor much financial wiggle room."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"With his historic election victory, Yukio Hatoyama has been given a mandate to put an end to Japan's postwar period. It's also ironic that the future prime minister will have to break up all the structures that his grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, helped set up when he was prime minister in 1955. Still, the voters haven't exactly told him what they want instead. In fact, they don't know themselves, as their expectations of the winner are somewhat circumscribed. Sunday's parliamentary elections were first and foremost about sending the LDP packing, which had ruled the country almost without interruption for half a century. But the clear victory for the DPJ also now gives Hatoyama a free hand and four years to transform Japan."

"Up until now, Japan has had a triumvirate of power made up of the LDP, the business community and the bureaucracy. One of Hatoyama's most urgent tasks is to dismantle this union and subjugate the bureaucracy to political power. He knows that the voters are behind him on this issue, but he will also need the support of the very civil servants whose power he is trying to limit. If he can't do this, he will fail."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The vote in the world's second-largest economy is historic … but there still is one catch: The DPJ's triumph is a protest against the conservative LDP rather than a conscious vote in favor of the DPJ. The LDP is simply too used up, arrogant and lacking in ideas and, as the voters see it, it will only be able to renew itself as part of the opposition."

"The DPJ has rightly acknowledged that the country's neglect of social issues is a problem. But, with all their many promises, it is still unclear how they are going to finance these social programs given the fact that the state coffers are empty and the country has record-level public debts. Still, on the whole, things can only get better in Japan because the party that has been in power for what seems like an eternity has now been ousted, which means that a two-or-more-party system might actually have a chance. This, in fact, is the genuinely historic advance that this election makes possible, regardless of how many of its promises the DPJ will ultimately be unable to fulfill."

In its Monday edition, the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote:

"The word 'revolution' doesn't exactly fit with what has happened in Japan. At first glance it's pretty easy to assume Sunday's results are revolutionary. However, in the first moments of his triumph, Hatoyama had already announced that a DPJ-led government would not change everything in Japan. And perhaps that's even the key to why a former opposition party won in such an overwhelming way. The Japanese simply hope things will get better (again). They will probably have to face disappointments, but it's doubtful they will be yearning for the LDP's return anytime soon."

The center-left Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:

"Will Hatoyama really bring about the change that he has promised? Surely not. The Japanese know only two states: completely and radically reforming all areas of life or doggedly holding on to tradition. At the moment, the latter is in effect. The large part of Japan's aging and dispirited society would prefer to return to the flashy days of the 1980s, when Japanese companies went on a buying spree in the United States. Despite all the slick phrases about transformation, alteration and change, the Japanese did not elect Hatoyama to help them barge their way into the future. Instead, they want to close off their country to immigrants again, to continue to let relations with their neighbors worsen and to forbid their military forces to take part in international peacekeeping missions. Nor are they willing to take risks aimed at helping the government shrink massive state debts by reducing state-funded programs. On the contrary, Hatoyama has pledged what can't be paid for: a higher minimum wage, more money for families, freeways without tolls and lower health-care payments for pensioners. In the long run, such measures would just send the nation's finances over the cliff. Hatoyama knows this. But he still is willing to risk disappointing his countrymen in order to get elected."

-- Josh Ward

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