Tokyo Japanese cast ballots today in hotly contested parliamentary elections in which the ruling conservative party, battered by a laggard economy and voter desire for change after more than half a century of virtual one-party rule, was expected to suffer an overwhelming defeat.
The Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, went into the elections with all major polls projecting they would lose control of the lower house of parliament.
That would likely mean the fall of Prime Minister Taro Aso and his Cabinet and the creation of a new government headed by centrist Democratic Party of Japan chief Yukio Hatoyama — who would become the first prime minister not backed by the LDP since 1994.
The vote is widely seen as a barometer of two related issues — voter frustrations over the ailing economy, which is in one of its worst slumps since World War II, and a loss of confidence in the Liberal Democrats’ ability to tackle tough problems such as the rising national debt and rapidly aging population.
But even with severe challenges pressing the nation, many analysts said the vote may not be about the issues so much as voters’ general desire for something new after nearly 54 years under the Liberal Democrats.
They also note that although the Democrats promise to change Japan’s approach on the economy and make Tokyo’s diplomacy less U.S.-centric, their founders are both defectors from the Liberal Democrats and are not likely to present too radical a departure from Japan’s current path.
“The election is more about emotions than policies,” Tokyo University political science professor Takashi Mikuriya said in a televised interview. “Most voters are making the decision not about policies but about whether they are fed up with the ruling party.”
Japanese media predict a high voter turnout.
The Yomiuri, the country’s largest newspaper, reported Saturday that analysts and most political parties are expecting turnout to be higher than the 67.5 percent in the previous lower house elections in 2005, and could go as high as 70 percent.
Trying to cut the ruling party’s losses, Aso — whose own support ratings have recently sagged to a dismal 20 percent — called on voters in a final pitch Saturday to stick with his party, saying the Democrats are untested and unable to lead.
“Can you trust these people? It’s a problem if you feel uneasy whether they can really run this country,” Aso told a crowd outside Tokyo.