The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DJP), whose election last year ended a 50 year dominance by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), lost control of the upper house of Parliament in last Sunday’s election. The DJP lost because it had gone back on promises to remove US military bases and create a fairer society.
The LDP’s neoliberal policies had seen both poverty and inequality consistently rise over decades which created the potential for an alternative party with progressive policies to gain mass support. Last year the DJP ran on a manifesto that appealed to workers as many of their policies appeared to offer an alternative to neoliberalism.
The DJP were formed by a merger of the right of the Socialist Democratic Party (SDP) and several liberal organisations in 1998. Their government in 2009 was however formed in coalition with the more left wing elements of the SDP whose support base is made up of workers and trade unions.
The SDP in recent years have performed poorly in elections and only held a small number of seats in Parliament, however the DJP’s majority was so slight that they relied on SDP support to run a stable government.
Shortly after the creation of this government it became apparent that the DJP was not willing to keep to any of its progressive election promises. Due to the SDP’s strong anti-war base of support they inevitably had to leave the coalition in May when it was announced that the government was not going to remove US military bases.
This left the government extremely weak and forced prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to resign.
The new DJP Prime Minister Naoto Kan continued to support the existence of US bases, and proposed a large increase in sales taxes and cuts to public spending.
The SDP, damaged in the 1990s by major splits in its organisation, is too small to profit from this.
The DJP still holds a majority in the lower house of parliament which is more powerful than the Upper house, and Naoto Kan has said he will not be calling a full election. However the upper house elections were widely seen as a referendum on the DJP’s 11 months in office, and the results have shown that they have lost the support of workers who elected them.
It is clear that there is a growing demand for an alternative to neoliberalism.