Japan appeared set on Sunday night to herald a historic political change, as independent exit polls and early official results signalled a possible landslide win for the opposition, led by Yukio Hatoyama. Prime Minister Taro Aso conceded defeat, even as Mr. Hatoyama hailed the emerging outcome as the people’s considered choice.
Unofficial projections showed that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and its smaller allies had cruised well past the half-way benchmark in the 480-member House of Representatives before midnight Tokyo time. Voting in the day-long general election had ended only at 8 p.m. Of the 480 seats, 300 are to be filled by the winners in single-seat constituencies, with the remainder being decided on the basis of proportional representation. The electorate is of the order of 100 million.
Mr. Aso told journalists in Tokyo that “it is almost certain that there will be a change of government.” He described the poll-result trends as a “very severe blow” to the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito. He said the people had expressed “disappointment” over his administration’s performance in difficult economic circumstances.
Mr. Hatoyama, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said in a television interview in Tokyo that “the most important thing is not that the Democratic Party has won.” He emphasised the need to translate his party’s triumph into “a victory of the people.” Mr. Hatoyama also raised visions of “a new chapter” of a Japanese government being able to “respond to the views of the people.” In his view, the “bureaucratic” politics of the past had prevented responsive governance.
The imminent exit of the LDP from the centre stage is expected to break the mould in Japan’s domestic politics and foreign policy. The economic recession and Japan’s alliance with the United States are expected to top the agenda of the new government. The LDP, according to its critics, had been sluggish in responding to the economic crisis and had allowed Japan to be no more than a U.S. satellite.