Well, we’re just a couple of days away from the election that the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party, or jiminto) have been putting off and putting off in the desperate hope that their miserable opinion poll ratings might pick up. Aso, the current prime minister, was supposed to have been picked last October to lead the LDP into a quick election, as he was somewhat more popular than anyone else in the party at the time. He dithered a bit, came out with one inept remark after another, and his approval just went down and down. Like an animal caught in a car’s headlights the LDP just froze and now their rule finally seems to be coming to an end. They were slaughtered in the Tokyo local election last month and now seem to be in for more of the same on a national level. All the opinion polls are predicting a landslide victory for the opposition DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan, or minshuto). Of course, opinion polls have got things pretty seriously wrong in the past…
This is nothing like the Obama campaign in January, though. No tidal waves of enthusiasm – it’s more that people are just fed up. Of course they have many good reasons to be fed up:
- one LDP politician’s funding scandal after another
- the succession of unpopular prime ministers imposed on the country without the courtesy of an election since Koizumi’s resignation
- the amakudari (“descent from heaven”) system where bureaucrats can retire from public service and be seconded to some token position in a company that just happens to be involved in public works… The potential for corruption, along with gross waste of tax money, is obvious.
- millions of pension records that were lost when being transferred from paper to computer some years ago – more bureaucratic bungling
- Even before the Liemann shock, the economy has been slipping down and down and income gaps between the haves and havenots getting wider and wider, largely blamed on ex-PM Koizumi’s reforms. (Raffles’ customers have not been exempt from seeing their incomes fall… 😦 )
- record unemployment, especially for young people, a lot of whom are stuck in temporary work with outsourcing companies
- The LDP seem to have just run out of ideas.
I’m not really that impressed with the minshuto to be honest; they seem to be a bit better than the LDP, have younger members, slightly more enlightened policies and fewer unhealthy links with construction companies… But even so, daft ideas like reducing petrol tax and making motorways free won’t exactly help Japan live up to the commitments to reducing CO2 emissions that must be coming up soon. Still, just changing governments per se must be a healthy development in a democracy, and help to loosen the bureaucrats’ grip on power. Bureaucrat-bashing has become a major theme of late; I rather pity anyone in public service right now, but some head-cutting at the top would probably be a great idea. (They will resist fiercely no doubt.)
- Bicycles are in: this was started by our own dear Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura who regularly used one on the campaign trail.
- This mysterious “happiness party” has suddenly appeared, running candidates in nearly every constituency. It seems to be some religious thing and is being carefully ignored by the media in opinion polls etc.
- The “revolution club” whose representative on TV the other day complained that for the state to aid old people was socialism, and causing the breakdown of family values!
Whatever, we’ll see on Sunday how big the minshuto’s majority is, and after that if anything has really changed…