IAN: Well, the election results were quite astonishing. For the first time in half a century we’ve got what looks like a stable, opposition led government. The Conservatives which has basically been ruling Japan since the end of the Second World War, albeit a short 18-month period where there was very unstable left-wing government, but effectively we’re seeing a massive sea of change in Japanese politics, a lurch towards the left or at least a lurch away from the conservatives.
TIM: What was the significance of the last vote?
IAN: It’s interesting from a number of different points of view. Firstly you’ve had a government that’s been inherently very very stable, albeit with a number of different prime ministers; Mr Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe, most recently Taro Aso and before him, Yasuo Fukuda. The problem is for that party, the LDP, is that I think basically the electorate got sick of them. So you’re looking as I said at a lurch towards the left , you’re looking at more left wing polices, you’re looking at policies that may in fact be stepping a little bit away from the American alliance so its an important from all points of view.
TIM: What type of pressures or motivations did the Japanese electorate have this time around?
IAN: If you subscribe to the point of view of the new prime minister, that is Yukio Hatoyama the likely new prime minister that is easier to be sworn in, then you’ll see that left wing policies were the attraction. However, a number of polls more recently have suggested that people are more likely to have been voting against the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party of Taro Aso so in effect it was possibly because the electorate was fed up with 50 plus years of conservative rule.
TIM: By left wing measures, what are you talking about?
IAN: Yukio Hatoyama has already talked about stepping away from globalisation, it’s a very popular sentiment around the world at the moment and he’s spoken about his distaste for unfettered capitalism. He’s talking about introducing very broad brush policies about giving money to families who have children to boost Japan’s lagging birth rate, boosting consumption and the economy. Broad brush left-wing type measures.
TIM: What differences can we expect after the change in leadership?
IAN: Well hopefully we’ll be seeing something of more stable leadership. The problem for the old LDP was although the government was stable; the leadership was very very unstable. As I said we had four prime ministers in four years. Hopefully Yukio Hatoyama will be regarded as having a mandate, a mandate to rule from parliament. So he’s going to have a very stable majority at least for the term of this government. He does have some issues in the shape of upper house elections, but his party also controls the upper house at the moment so I mean things are looking quite good for Mr. Hatoyama
TIM: What impacts will this have on the liberal party and what developments are pundits expecting?
IAN: Well, the LDP is facing a real crisis of identity. You know it’s forged itself around the idea it was the only party that could provide stable government in Japan, but the voters obviously didn’t buy that. Now, Taro Aso has already expressed his desire and his intention to resign. The difficulty for the LDP will be coming up with a new leader who isn’t associated with 50 years of LDP rule which has likely stagnated.
One of the names that has been put forward in fact has been quite surprising, it’s Kunio Hatoyama, who is the brother of the incoming prime minister. The two brothers were one time political allies but Kunio had drifted back towards the LDP and recently held cabinet level positions. Now that would certainly be one way to revitalise the party by introducing a figure who is a known dissident in his own ranks but whether or not the LDP will lurch to something quite so off centre is yet to be seen.
TIM: Finally, what effects will this have on China?
IAN: China has said very little of substance about the election result. It’s not out of keeping, China being very diplomatically astute. For its part, it’s had its share of difficulties with previous LDP government under Junichiro Koizumi, a very popular prime minister in Japan, somewhat less so because he had a tendency to visit the Yakusuni Shrine, which is the war shrine where among others, Japanese war criminals are commemorated. The incoming government has said it intends to favour East Asian relations, possibly, say pundits, at the expense of relations with America, traditionally the bedrock of Japanese foreign policy. I wouldn’t expect that alliance to disintegrate over night. Mr. Hatoyama has been very vocal lately that he’s been misconstrued and that he’s very committed to the American relationship but there’s not doubt he’s more focused on East Asia in general and less focused on America compared to his predecessors.