Sunday, August 30, 2009

Japan's conservatives annihilated

TOKYO — Japan's opposition swept to a historic victory in elections Sunday, crushing the ruling conservative party that has run the country for most of the postwar era and assuming the daunting task of pulling the economy out of its worst slump since World War II.

A grim-looking Prime Minister Taro Aso conceded defeat just a couple hours after polls had closed, suggesting he would quit as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for all but 11 months since 1955.

"The results are very severe," Aso said. "There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party."

Unemployment and deflation – and an aging, shrinking population – have left families fearful of what the future holds.

Fed up with the LDP, voters turned overwhelmingly to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which ran a populist-leaning platform with plans for cash handouts to families with children and expanding the social safety net.

"This is a victory for the people," said Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the Democrats and almost certainly Japan's next prime minister. "We want to build a new government that hears the voices of the nation."

Hatoyama and his party – an eclectic mix of former Liberal Democrats, socialists and progressives – face a daunting array of challenges, economic and demographic.

This has been coming for awhile as the LDP systematically alienated every sector of Japanese society, particularly women, youth, and seniors. The last was probably the deathblow and it happened over two years ago when the government admitted they had misplaced about 50 million pension files and therefore millions of seniors were going to get less pensions than they were entitled to.

Considering the segment of the population that reliably comes out and votes the most, the LDP were probably a dead party walking from that point on.

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