PM dissolves parliament ahead of general election

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has dissolved the lower house of parliament to ready the country for a general elections on August 30 which could see the opposition DPJ take power from the LDP for the first time since 1955.


Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has dissolved the lower house of parliament to allow for legislative elections for August 30. The move follows the disastrous results of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (which, despite its name, is politically and economically conservative) in the Tokyo city elections in early July, for which Aso offered a rare and unexpected public apology.


“My statements, and what has been characterised as my changing policy positions have led the Japanese people to worry about and grow distrustful of politics” Aso told an assembly of his party’s lawmakers hours ahead of the parliament’s formal dissolution. “As a result, the approval rating for the LDP has fallen. I am deeply sorry”, he said.


The Prime Minister vowed to restore voter’s faith in his fractious ruling party, which currently seems doomed to face a historic defeat in the upcoming elections. In a weekend telephone poll of 1,045 people by the major daily newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, 56 percent of respondents said they wanted the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to win. In contrast, 23 percent favoured the LDP.


The end of a 50-year rule ?


A Democratic Party victory in the national parliament's lower house would end half a century of nearly unbroken rule by the business-friendly LDP. It could also solve the political deadlock between the political parties that has blighted the parliament as Japan tries to recover from its worst recession since World War Two.


The LDP has governed Japan continuously since the party's foundation in 1955, except for one 10-month stretch in the early 1990s. But the party has suffered a leadership crisis in recent years, changing prime ministers three times since the popular Junichiro Koizumi stepped down in 2006.  Aso is not only facing sliding opinion polls, he also faces dissent within his own party with several key lawmakers calling for his resignation.


As a result of all these factors, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is widely expected to win the general election in August.


A "revolutionary" election


“The opposition DPJ is obviously very optimistic” said FRANCE 24’s Tokyo correspondent Nathalie Tourret. Party leader Yukio Hatoyama said at a recent political rally that the upcoming elections were a “revolutionary” moment, which party members should face with “a sense of historic mission”.


The DPJ, led by political blueblood and US-trained engineer Hatoyama, has promised widespread reforms, including stronger social welfare and a reduction in the influence of the powerful state bureaucracy.

"This general election is not only about ending the LDP's rule," Hatoyama told a news conference. "This is an important revolutionary vote to create a new Japan with politician-led politics.”


 Investor confidence


The elections are expected by voters and investors alike to bring about significant policy change in Japan. “The DPJ is campaigning on a social and diplomatic platform, pledging to pay more attention to consumers than to companies and bureaucrats, and to end perceived subservience to US policy decisions on the world stage” Nathalie Tourret explained.


“I think that for the short-term, hope that the Democrats taking power will cure the parliamentary paralysis and lead to smooth passage of bills and policies will outweigh any worries about uncertainty” Noritsu Hirakawa, a strategist at Okasan securities told Reuters. “Over the longer term, there are questions about how the democrats will fund all their social programmes, and this may eventually weigh on the market”.


LDP lawmakers have stifled their criticism of Aso as they turn their attention to the tough election fight ahead. The election campaign is sure to be fierce for one of Japan’s most significant elections in recent history.

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