The election will be cathartic, but catharsis is short-lived

The general election is still six days away, but despite pernicious negative campaigning across Japan, the LDP seems to be incapable of reversing what the DPJ has taken to calling — switching from a meteorological metaphor to a geological metaphor — a "change in the earth's crust."

The LDP's heavyweights are pinned down defending their own districts...Koizumi says once again that it's not bad for the opposition to take power once in a while and suggests that the LDP could fall below 100 seats...in Sankei's recent poll a greater portion of independents (75.4 percent) favors "regime change" than the portion of voters as a whole (66.5 percent) who favor regime change...the same Sankei poll found that 75.5 percent of respondents will absolutely vote on 30 August...Mainichi finds that the DPJ could sweep the LDP out of fifteen prefectures and is poised to win thirty-seven of forty-seven first districts (the first district of a prefecture contains the capital city and will usually be the most populous district)...Mainichi also finds that roughly 75 percent of respondents will absolutely vote...Yomiuri's poll finds that support for a DPJ-centered government has surpassed political realignment or a grand coalition as the preferred post-election outcome.

The picture that emerges from this growing cloud of data is of a public that has largely made up its mind: the LDP is broken, and it should be duly removed from office. But I think a data point from Asahi captures the mood in which the public will vote. Even as voters appear ready to award the DPJ a huge majority, more than half of the respondents to an Asahi poll believe that regime change will leave Japanese politics unchanged, while only 24 percent think things will change for the better and only 8 percent think things will change for the worse.

One of the DPJ's commercials (which I cannot seem to find) shows crowds celebrating as the Berlin Wall comes down and Barack Obama speaking, suggesting that 30 August could join 9 November 1989 and 4 November 2008 as political milestones. While the LDP's defeat will indeed be a cathartic moment, the Japanese public is fully aware that once the election is done there is serious work to be done — and that the DPJ could easily fail to move Japan in a new direction. After all, less than a year after his election, Obama is struggling to make progress on signature pieces of his agenda and faces daunting challenges going forward. And let's not even begin to discuss the problems Germany has had to grapple with as a result of reunification. Inevitably catharsis gives way to the realization that making radical change stick takes hard work.


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