Japan's political world turned upside down

Despite a truly historic victory by the DPJ, the first time since the LDP was created that it has been defeated in a general election (and oh how it was defeated!), there is remarkably little to say.

After all, there were no surprises. The results were exactly as Japan's media organizations predicted. The DPJ finished within a range of ±20 seats from 300, the LDP flirted with 100 seats but will not end up closer to 120 seats, giving it slightly more than the DPJ received in 2005. The Japanese public made very clear during the months leading up to the general election that it was time for the LDP to go — and in the end, the voters booted the LDP from power without flinching. The bums have been thrown out, at last.

As expected, among the LDP members to lose are number of senior party leaders, several of whom did not manage to be revived through proportional representation. Several prominent reformists — Yasuhisa Shiozaki(who won by roughly 3,000 votes, around 1 percent of the vote), Hidenao Nakagawa, Nobuteru Ishihara, and Taro Kono — retained their seats. Taro Aso signaled his intention to resign as party leader fairly early in the evening, clearing the way for a fight, perhaps a prolonged fight depending on when the party has its election, to replace Aso. The LDP's institutional structure will presumably have to be reformed as the party moves into opposition, raising the question of whether the LDP will study the DPJ's internal structure.

As for the DPJ, it will end up short of a supermajority, but the party has won more than 300 seats, an extraordinary victory by any definition. Yukio Hatoyama and the other DPJ leaders plan to move quickly in preparing the party to take power, and the Japanese people will be watching to see what the party does with its new majority. The party has about a year until it will have to go before the public again, in the 2010 House of Councillors election — and the clock will be ticking. When talking about public expectations, it is important to stress that expectations are not necessarily attached to specific pieces of the manifesto, but rather are more holistic: the DPJ will have to do something tangible with its new power. It will have to show voters that it has at least taken the first steps in a new direction for Japan. Readers now know that I have plenty of doubts about Hatoyama's ability to wield such a majority — but of course, I am willing to be proved wrong.

The point is that the general election has posed no shortage of new questions that will only be answered with the passage of time. The election has been cathartic — despite having a sense that the DPJ would win as substantially as it did, anticipating the results did not make the returns any less exciting — but the coming months will be difficult.


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