A New Sun to Rise in Japan

As Japan preps for a historic election on Sunday, experts weigh in on the true likelihood of change.

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Could Japan be the next country to vote for “change?” Polls show that Japanese voters are poised to usher in rule by the Democratic Party of Japan, breaking the Liberal Democratic Party’s half-century grip on politics.

With victory all but a foregone conclusion for the DPJ, analysts have focused on how the relatively young party plans to effect monumental changes in a nation beset with crushing government debt, a shrinking and aging population, and dwindling importance in East Asia.

  • It’s the Economy, Stupid.  The editors of Wall Street Journal Asia sees the DPJ’s proposed economic policy as its Achilles heel. The party’s plan won't do enough to relieve Japan’s looming problems. "Japan has a huge fiscal deficit and the highest public-debt-to-GDP ratio in the developed world. Without a strategy for growth and with an aging population, there’s no way to relieve these burdens. And without a strong economy, Tokyo can’t afford a strong defense."
  • Bureacracy Is Stifling.  An opinion piece from the Economist supports the DPJ’s goal of tackling the country’s extremely powerful bureaucracy. “If [the DPJ] can impose its will on civil servants, it might be able to break through the inertia that has prevented Japan from sorting out its pensions crisis and dealing effectively with an ageing society.”
  • Walk a Fine Line.  “On the one hand, [Japan] is likely to continue to depend on and welcome U.S. security guarantees,” said Richard Samuels in Newsweek. “On the other, it has said it’ll reconsider how closely it hugs Uncle Sam … Its goal is to hover neither too close to nor too far from both a declining America and a rising China.”

As for the euphoria sweeping the Japanese electorate, Tobias Harris, a blogger for Newsweek Japan, recommends the nation remain realistic. While the DPJ has campaigned on the message of being able to provide a “tectonic shift,” change does not come easy.

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 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.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.