So after all the noise and sloganed promises, and after the 2 week delay in which the LDP have done their best to “prepare” the corridors of power for the new leaders from the DPJ, Yukio Hatoyama became Prime Minister on Wednesday with his own impressive 308 DPJ seats further increased by a less then ideal coalition with the seats of two smaller parties (the Social Democratic party of Japan, SDPJ and the People`s New Party, PNP). These seats are needed, it is said, to secure a new-policy easing balance of power in the Upper House. What is unarguable though is that the with just 116 seats in the lower house the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) , that have been in almost uninterrupted control of Japan for the last half century, are now a very toothless opposition.
No-one could have predicted this level of defeat for the once mighty LDP. Indeed most of the voters that deserted them and cast their ballots for the DPJ did not foresee their protest vote against government ineptitude and arrogance creating such a landslide victory. For many voters it was the first time, in their lives, they had voted for a party that wasn`t the LDP. I`ve talked to many and, almost without exception, they now lament the vote they cast. You see they didn`t really want to LDP to lose, they are basically supporters after all, they just wanted it to lose a little bit. They did not expect politicians to listen to them yet they did not want to be so blatantly ignored by the government and they voted to injure it, not fatally as has happened; but only to teach it a lesson to give their anger and let it deal with that. They didn`t expect it to be destroyed, they expected a weakened party, some may even have entertained the fantasy (which is unfortunately not as far fetched as it sounds) of a grand LDP-DPJ coalition. the best of both worlds as it were.
Okay my survey is hardly scientific as I live in a areas of Tokyo replete with rich, old people, who are traditionally LDP supporters, and for many the DPJ and Hatoyama San represent everything they dislike: he believes in helping the poor, whereas the rich believe that the poor should help themselves; he believes in closer ties with China and Asia generally while they find it hard to give up the love/hate relationship they have with America; he accepts the sometimes inconvenient history of this nation and hopes to move on and take pride in the future but they do not, they support the rosy-hued rewritings and myopic remembrances that are stopping Japan reinveting itself completely and giving it the power to call the similarly bigoted recallers of past wrongs in China and Korea what they really are: opportunists that see the denial and know how to profit from the embarrassments such things cause. And he believes in change and the chance to do something new and different and old people, especially older Japanese people, just hate change and differences.
These opinions are not confined only to the older people in my neighbourhood of Tokyo. It would not be too great a lie to say that such opinions and such voting strategies existed throughout Japan. So, because many of the people who voted for him don`t actually support him or his party Hotoyama San now has a kind of accidental mandate that must temper the great power his massive election victory gave him.
The DPJ cannot be unaware of the fact that it owes its position to the miscommunications of tactical voters. Hatoyama must be careful though, some of the policies he has outlined for immediate attention and implementation are going to be difficult for the population, that has never had things like free higher education, free highways, free nursery care, good relations with China and the appearances, at least, of equality with the US , to accept. They will see some old, familiar faces in the government and relax into hopes of compromised half-fullfillments where the daring demands of new policy will be negotiated out of existence.
Yet there are also many young in the party and the country that were attracted to the ideas of a new era of hope and they are still full of hope that this is Japan`s Obama moment. This election had a huge turnout (a record high of around 69%) and for the first time in a generation or so the young were visibly active in playing a part in the creation of their own nation. Hatoyama has to keep this side of his party happy too if his historic win is not to putter out in a series of less than devout agreements with conservatives. The young demand change and are tired of compromise believing Japan is overdue its change of direction.
It is a difficult balancing act he and his untested policy-makers have. There is undoubted intelligence in this new government; there also appears to be a genuine wish to make a change for the better as the cabinet seems to be made up of earnest political heavyweight with agendas long denied. But many of them are still the same old men that the Japanese have seen for years on their regular tourism between the LDP and DPJ parties; a collection of people who may lack the inherent hopefulness of those that achieve power for the first time. They will need to be pragmatists for sure but pragmatism has been all that has happened for so long in Japanese politics. The very word needs to be redefined now to remove the disabling lack of energy and vision that it has meant for so long.
Maybe the young in the party and the young who voted for it and saw, perhaps for the first time, their opinion and democratic power matter and make a difference will keep the DPJ and Hatoyama in the right direction. I do not have any illusions that those that feel they acted rashly in the lower house elections last month by voting for the DPJ will not make the same “mistakes” in the upper house elections that are coming soon. At this moment the DPJ control both houses and could force through any legislation they so wished. Not that this is healthy for democracy either but it is difficult to make too many mistakes in the first year, unless you’re George W. Bush, so I hope the good ideas, those that will begin to make a difference to the lives of ordinary Japanese get enacted quickly. The DPJ will almost certainly lose some, even a lot, of power in the Upper House next election, but even the old, rich voters might find that free nurseries, child support, free high schools, free expressways, improved unemployment benefits and job training, the relocation/reduction of US troops and cordial diplomatic relations with China and other Asian countries will not actually affect their inward-looking little lives that much. Though they believe they don`t want such laws and systems, and will be poorer and more inconvenienced as a result, hopefully they will see that making poor people happy and less poor does not particular infringe upon their rights to remain smugly detached and uninterested. Perhaps this will cause them to fear the power of the DPJ less and come election time they may even vote for them again. After all, if nothing really changes then why change back. Because as we know old, rich people, especially old, rich, Japanese people, really hate changes and differences