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Japan's opposition crushes LDP in landmark victory

Exit polls on Sunday gave the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) more than 300 seats in Japan's 480-seat Diet (parliament), ending more than 54 years of nearly unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.

By Staff writer / August 30, 2009

Japan's main opposition Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama (l.) and former leader and chief campaign strategist Ichiro Ozawa react, as results start to come in, at the Democratic Party of Japan election headquarters in Tokyo, Sunday.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/ Reuters

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Tokyo

Voters ushered in a new era in Japanese politics Sunday, throwing out the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after 54 years of nearly unbroken rule.

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Instead, in elections to the lower house of parliament, they chose the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and its promises of a fresh approach to pull Japan out of decades of economic and political stagnation.

Exit polls gave the DPJ more than 300 seats in Japan's 480-seat Diet (parliament), an overwhelming victory that reveals the depths of disillusion with the ruling LDP.

"Japan has become a normal democracy," says Robert Pekkanen, a Japan expert at the University of Washington. "For better or worse, from now on we will see an alternation of power."

The LDP had been out of office for less than a year since the founding of Japan's post-war political system. Exhausted, beset by scandals and bereft of popular ideas or leaders, the party suffered a landslide defeat that marks a turning point in Japanese political life, analysts say.

"21st century politics in Japan has started in 2009," says Akikazu Hashimoto, a professor at Oberlin University in Tokyo. "There is no going back. This is a tectonic shift in the Japanese system as a whole."

Why Japan lost faith in the LDP

The DPJ, a broadly based party with a generally center-left bent, is not expected to make radical changes either to Japan's economic policy or its foreign policy. It won the Diet election because, after years of falling living standards and political paralysis, Japanese voters finally lost faith in their long-time rulers.

"People want a party that can do something," says Tobias Harris, who runs the perspicacious observingjapan.com website. "They are not convinced that the DPJ is that party, but they are 100 percent convinced that the LDP is not that party."

How will the DPJ change things?

The biggest change, if DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama can pull it off, will be in the way that Japan is governed. Mr. Hatoyama, scion of a prominent Japanese political family, has pledged to seize policy-making power from the senior civil servants who have wielded it for years, and hand it to elected politicians.

Other popular campaign promises included income support for struggling farmers, child allowances for parents, and the abolition of road tolls.

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