Japan's Liberal Democratic Party has been put to the sword. The result of Sunday's general election is an unprecedented rout for the conservatives that surely ends forever its postwar mandate to run the nation. The near total humiliation of Prime Minister Taro Aso's LDP leaves the door open for a new, untested, center-left government under Yukio Hatoyama and his victorious Democratic Party of Japan colleagues.
The scale of the DPJ's triumph underlines the failures of successive LDP-led coalition cabinets to provide direction and clear-cut policies to a demoralized country reeling from economic pain and fearful for its future in a more competitive international environment.
The conservatives have long lacked effective leadership and will find the task of regrouping under a successor to Aso particularly daunting as it now possesses so few possible candidates in its thinned ranks. This could well give an opening to Nobuteru Ishihara whose hat is likely to be in the ring in any forthcoming contest.
The LDP's future will depend both on its ability to come up with a new champion and how Hatoyama's cabinet sets about tackling Japan's myriad problems. Cynics will doubtless contend that if the conservatives had to eventually lose power, they could hardly have picked a more opportune moment than this summer.
The current cocktail of high unemployment, the return of serious deflation, regional inequalities and an unwillingness on the part of the Democrats to come clean on certain tax increases could quickly become highly inflammatory.
It was surely the deep-seated unpopularity of a fumbling LDP rather than any particular enthusiasm for Hatoyama and his stated policies that gave the Democrats their opportunity to trounce the conservatives. The onus is now on Hatoyama to prove that he has the skills to tackle Japan's huge economic and financial issues. It clearly won't do any longer to keep insisting that putting the match to wasteful spending programs will automatically do the trick or to imagine that sorting out social welfare problems will be easy or cheap.
The electorate's expectations will have to be quickly brought down to earth. The belief that somehow the Democrats can conjure up a set of economic measures that will rapidly and painlessly get Japan out of its present mess, while rethinking U.S.-Japan relations and rapping the knuckles of arrogant civil servants, will have to be gently dispelled.
Hatoyama and his youthful parliamentarians will have a huge majority in the Lower House, though there are obviously few guides to any future performance. Yet the Democrats, whatever the outcome of negotiations with smaller anti-LDP parties, already have a numerical strength that for the moment leaves them in an unchallengeable position.
The Democrats must now decide on their priorities, determine how best to work with rather than against the nation's career bureaucrats and get on with the job of governing. Hatoyama has an unprecedented opportunity to show that he is up to the job.© Japan Today