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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Watching Japanese politics is as difficult as keeping track of a school of fish in a swiftly-moving stream. Thirty minutes after I started to search for definitive results of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly elections - and what these mean for controversial governor Shintaro Ishihara - I'm still puzzled. No two stories are the same and no journalist thinks it's important to concisely describe the political situation in the country's - and the world's - largest metropolis.

The best coverage comes from Taiwan, a major trading partner of Japan's. The Taiwan News reports that:

Out of the 127 seats, the DPJ snared 54 seats (up from 34), while the LDP dropped 10 seats to 38 seats and New Komeito boosted its delegation by one to 23 seats, while the JCP dropped five seats to eight with other smaller groups splitting the remaining slots.

This means that the main national threat to Taro Aso's LDP - which has ruled Japan almost uninterruptedly for the past 50 years - won the election but failed to win an outright majority. As a result it will have to rule in a coalition with other parties.

Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, is elected in a separate poll, so his position will not be materially altered except inasmuch as the amount of heat emanating from his newly-elected assembly will increase. Nationalistic programs he launched, such as the 84-per-cent government-owned Shinginko Tokyo Ltd. (a bank) will probably be sold to private interests.

But there is no story anywhere about which coalition parties the DPJ will be working with in the new assembly. All eyes in the past week have been focused on whether and when Japan's prime minister Taro Aso would dissolve the lower house of the national Diet.

This happened today.

"I have decided to dissolve the lower house," Aso said at a cabinet meeting, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura.

"Dissolution is necessary in order for us to gain more understanding and cooperation of the Japanese people," Aso said, Kawamura told reporters.

In risk- and conflict-averse Japan the DJP's victory on 12 July was a watershed that will have not only politicians but housewives and salarymen throughout the country scratching their heads. Pundits will predict dire consequences in the event of change.

The time has come, it seems, for a national cleansing. Some news stories describe the change of leadership in terms of the current party - the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) - "stepping aside" as though they were expected to perform ritual suicide (hara-kiri) in the face of an hysterical, angry populace.

As for Ishihara, we'll see. I expect that the infamous rightist will eventually fade into the obscurity that such characters deserve, with only a whiff of saltpetre and gunsmoke to usher him out the doors of power.

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