Japan goes to the polls on Sunday amid growing “signs” of popular disenchantment with the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Prime Minister Taro Aso, buffeted by consistently low popularity ratings, faces the challenge of proving that the tide has not turned against the LDP.

At the other end of the spectrum, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Yukio Hatoyama is seeking “power to achieve a change of government.”

For Mr. Hatoyama, the agenda of “change of government” is much more than that. Immaculately attired for his campaign launch in Osaka on August 18, he felt buoyed to say that “the day has finally come for us to rewrite our history.” It will be historic if the DPJ were to unseat the LDP now, given its record of being in power for 54 years except for a hiatus of 10 months in opposition.

If the main concern of the LDP is to save itself from relegation to the history books, Mr. Aso did not seem ruffled as he began his campaign in Tokyo. Sporting rolled-up shirt-sleeves, he drew comfort from the first signs of “good” economic news in over a year of painful recession. The start of the campaign coincided with the news that Japan, in the last quarter, reversed the recent trend of negative growth,

However, as the campaign picked up, opinion surveys have put the LDP in poor light. This is compounded by the fact that the party won a big mandate in just the previous general election under charismatic Junichiro Koizumi. An independent opinion survey showed that nearly a quarter of the LDP supporters might vote for the DPJ this time. And, over 40 per cent of the unaffiliated voters in the survey expressed a decisive inclination to opt for the main opposition party.

The current economic crisis is not the only issue cited by the DPJ, which already controls the upper chamber of Diet (Parliament), to debunk the LDP. Yet Mr. Hatoyama’s campaign has not so far prompted the pundits to predict, with or without the hedging bets, an Obama-style “change” in Japan.

Aside from views on an array of domestic issues, the DPJ advocates “close” but “equitable ties with the United States.” By contrast, observers see the LDP as wanting Japan to stay in a geostationary orbit around the U.S., as it were. The DPJ wants Japan’s pacifist Constitution revised only if necessary and appears more ambitious than the LDP on containing global climate change.

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