Monday, 31 August 2009

Japan lower house election coverage was not brilliant except in the peripheries. On Twitter, hashtags #japanelection, #senkyo2009 and #senkyo provided spirited coverage based on domestic Japanese broadcasts. They also provided access to the best of the election coverage in English care of Trans Pacific Radio, where four bilingual Japan political junkies, all Americans - Garrett DeOrio, Christopher Gunson, Adam Richards and Ken Worsley - gave blow-by-blow accounts of events and in-depth analysis.

There is nothing like this available on the English-language websites of Japan's leading newspapers, The Japan Times, Mainichi Daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, and Asahi Shimbun. Decent stories appeared on the websites of The Times and The New York Times before midnight Australian time. But in Oz itself we had to wait until about 2am when Peter Alford, The Australian's Japan correspondent, posted a story. It contained out-of-date results, however.

The election of the Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) by an overwhelming margin is a seminal event in Japan's history. It's been 54 years of one-party rule. In 2005 the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won by a wide margin under leader Junichiro Koizumi. But he resigned soon after and since then we have had two dead-beat leaders who have been unable to continue with Koizumi's aggressive reform agenda. In 2007 the LDP lost control of the upper house, stimying reform. Tokyo local government elections a month ago sounded the dath knell for the LDP. Added to the GFC, the static performances of Aso and Abe infuriated Japanese voters.

Clearly, based on this history, there is a mandate for change. "Change" was the celebratory cry of DPJ supporters during the evening, as they watched their party accumulate a super-majority - two thirds of the total - that will enable the lower house to override a refusal by the upper house to pass a piece of legislation. This is in addition to the DPJ having an absolute majority. In consensus-minded Japan, however, it is likely that the DPJ will form a coalition with those parties that hold the balance of power in the upper house, in order to avoid invoking its right to override.

The DPJ voiced a desire in its pre-election campaign to remove American bases to Guam. It has also said that it wants to reconfigure the making of public policy by eroding the power of government departments, which it describes as a method of returning the power of government to the people, via their elected representatives. This is strong stuff in a country where information is so tightly controlled as to be almost non-existent.

It will be interesting to see if the DPJ will realign its international perspectives to key in more closely with Asian neighbours as opposed to the United States. It will also be interesting to see how long DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama survives. Japan's leaders tyically rule briefly. Koizumi lasted for five years - the third-longest tenure of any post-war prime minister.

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