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New PM takes office in Japan

Yukio Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan must address a troubled economy, record high unemployment, and a rapidly aging population.

By Correspondent / September 16, 2009



The Japanese parliament confirmed Yukio Hatoyama as the nation’s new prime minister on Wednesday, ushering his Democratic Party of Japan into power after 50 years of nearly continuous rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.

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Mr. Hatoyama’s administration, which he is still finalizing, faces a number of economic and social challenges: recession, record high unemployment, and a rapidly aging population.

After winning 308 of the 480 seats in Japan’s House of Representatives in the Aug. 30 general election, Hatoyama and his DPJ enjoy a sizable majority. But they will still have to make compromises with the two small parties in their coalition.

Among the DPJ’s main goals is taking control of policymaking back from bureaucrats. After 50 years of one-party control, civil servants came to wield a significant amount of power, which the DPJ alleges lead to wasteful spending and benefited special interests, reports the China Daily.

Hatoyama has also vowed to focus on social welfare programs, particularly for health and education, as well as climate-change controls. He also plans to rework the foreign policy so Japan is less bound to the United States, reports the BBC. But the DPJ has been surprisingly unforthcoming on a central issue, reports The Christian Science Monitor: pulling Japan out of its extended economic slump.

But many opinion polls reveal that Japanese people did not support Hatoyama and the DPJ because of their policies. Instead they simply wanted a change after 50 years of the LDP.

However, those expecting Hatoyama to revolutionize Japanese politics may be disappointed. Patrick Koellner, a Japan expert, told Deutsche Welle that despite Japan’s economic woes, his newly appointed finance minister Hirohisa Fujii is unlikely to push for government intervention in the economy. And change is often difficult Japanese political system.

"Experts talk of an 'iron triangle' consisting of the government, the state bureaucracy and business," Thomas Buettner - a historian of Japan and researcher at the University of Heidelberg - told Deutsche Welle. "Japanese politics are relatively sluggish and the bureaucracy won't change."
So while Hatoyama's election may have shaken up the Japanese political landscape, both Buettner and Koellner agree that his ascent to power does not represent a revolution.

A profile of Hatoyama in Japan’s Kyodo News suggests that while the leader may be a change from the LDP, he is largely unproven, and initial indications show he might not be cut out for his new position. The US-educated leader is described as more of “a quiet scholar type than a person suited to the world of politics.” A man with a gentle character, Hatoyama has also been accused of being a “puppet” of former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa.

Despite the concerns about the new ruling party, some of the newly elected officials say it’s precisely their lack of experience that gives them an advantage, reports Bloomberg.

“Not having experience also means that the ruling party is free of constraints, and that is a strength,” [Katsuhito Yokokume, a newly elected, 28-year-old member of the Diet] said in a telephone interview.

Click here to read about how Japan’s troubled economy is pushing more people onto the streets and whether Hatoyama can address these woes.

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