Japan Goes To New Elections, Faces Old Problems
By Michelle FlorCruz | November 17, 2012 8:24 AM EST
As election season ends in the United States, it begins in the world's third-largest economy, Japan, where the future of the country's leadership remains unclear.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the lower house of parliament on Friday, ahead of next month's election, and declared Election Day will be Dec. 16.
According to the AP, Prime Minister Noda spoke to the press Friday evening addressing Japan's future political climate.
The political move by center-left Noda is an attempt to keep the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in power, which it has held for the past three years, despite growing criticism over the handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and its recent doubling of sales taxes.
"We are determined to do our best to have the Democratic Party of Japan at the helm of the nation (…) and fight it out to move politics forward," Noda said, addressing the press.
However, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has dominated Japanese politics after World War II, has a credible shot at grabbing power. The LDP head, and former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is Noda's most likely successor. He resigned as Japan's leader in 2007 due to medical issues which he has since overcome.
Abe is described by some as a hawkish leader. "I will do my utmost to end the political chaos and stalled economy, I will take the lead to make that happen," Abe told reporters. The economy contracted in the quarter ended in September at a 3.5 percent annual pace, the biggest decrease since the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis. Economists fear the country may enter a new recession.
Campaigns are set to begin Dec. 4, but political hopefuls have already started to rally support. Noda's divided DPJ will need to come together. Rising tensions with neighboring China over the Senkaku Islands, or Diaoyu Islands as the Chinese call them, and slow recovery from the 2011 disaster have left many citizens dissatisfied.
Numbers are already suggesting that the more conservative, business-oriented LDP will likely win the most seats in the 480-member lower house, but still be short of the majority. As a result, experts are predicting a political stalemate between multiple parties with differing political priorities.
A stall could open up political avenues for two characters outside of the two bigger parties. One is former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara of the newly-renamed Party of the Sun, formerly the Sunrise Party, an 80- year old self-styled "older rebel" who is known for hardline nationalist views that infuriate China and veer to the right of the postwar political mainstream in Japan. The other, Osaka mayor Toru Hasimoto, is far younger at 42, leads the Japan Restoration Party, and is an admirer of Margaret Thatcher who has expressed views that, while not as hard-right as Ishihara's, paint the picture of a Japan that's far more assertive in foreign policy than it has been since 1945.
The two are currently discussing an alliance to compete in an otherwise bipartisan political race.
But regardless of who takes over, Japan's politicians will likely have to to continue to focus on one issue: fixing the nation's two-decade long economic slump.
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