Last Sunday’s general election in Japan delivered a landslide victory for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and an unprecedented defeat for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled the country almost continuously for 50 years. The DPJ won 308 lower house seats to the LDP’s 119.
The DPJ was voted in on the hopes of millions of people who were abandoned by the previous government. Many hope the new government will deliver free education and support for unemployed workers.
The landslide reflects the impact of the world capitalist crisis on Japan – GDP has shrunk at an annual rate of 14.2 percent. Recent reports have suggested a small recovery in the Japanese economy but exports, vital to the Japanese economy, are around 35 percent lower than last year and unemployment remains the highest it has ever been.
Before the recession around one third of the workforce, mostly young people, were on temporary contracts earning less than the equivalent of £500 a month.
Hundreds of thousands of these workers have now had their contracts ended without notice. Unemployment has had a terrible effect on these young people. On New Year’s Day this year homeless workers set up a camp in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park to expose the impact of the recession.
But the LDP defeat has deeper roots. The so-called “1955 system”, left behind after the US occupation, linked together the LDP, big corporations and rural bosses in a network of corruption. The entire system was designed to keep out left wing opposition, and it worked. Workers’ movements were defeated in the 1950s and 1960s and the student uprising of the late 1960s was brutally crushed.
So expectations are high – the DPJ is supported by some trade unions and NGOs and has some better policies. For example, it may stop Japan refuelling US planes bound for Afghanistan. But the party also includes people who want to abolish Japan’s pacifist constitution.
Left wing parties’ results were static – the social democratic Socialist Party kept its seven seats and the Communist Party kept its nine.
A new “community union” helped set up the protest of homeless workers in Tokyo. Temporary, female and foreign workers in particular have begun to join this union. After the election, these people may be wondering how real change can come in Japan.