Ruling Party's Reign Broken In Japan

After more than a half-century in power, Japan's ruling party has been ousted by the voters. Japanese media is reporting that the opposition Democratic party of Japan has scored a landslide victory will take control from the LDP — the party that has been ruling almost uninterrupted for the past 53 years. Host Liane Hansen talks to NPR's Louisa Lim about the latest reaction.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

After more than a half century in power, Japan's ruling party has been ousted. Prime Minister Taro Aso has conceded that the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled almost without interruption for the past 53 years, has lost in a landslide.

NPR's Louisa Lim is in Tokyo and joins us on the line. Louisa, what's the latest?

LOUISA LIM: Well, the latest is that exit polls have just been released in the last couple of hours, and they show a landslide win for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Now, different TV stations have different projections, but they're all showing a huge majority for the DPJ. Some figures are putting it as high as 329 seats in the 480-seat parliament. Now, that would actually give them the two-thirds majority that would allow them to ram bills through parliament.

But all of the figures are saying they'll win over 300 seats. So we don't yet know how many seats they'll hold, but we do know that an untested left-of-center party will hold power in Japan. And if you bear in mind the ruling LDP has governed for all but 11 months of the past 53 years, you'll see the enormity of the change ahead. The LDP held 300 seats before. Now projections show they will have just over 100 seats. So, it really marks the end of an era. Earlier in the day, I went to the polling station to talk to voters and this is what they said.

Mr. MITSUMASA MIYATA(ph): (Through Translator) I have no choice. The LDP has not done well. I'm not really positively voting for the opposition DPJ, but there's nobody else I can vote for.

LIM: That was Mitsumasa Miyata, who has his own TV production company. He's a reluctant supporter of this electoral revolution. But some voters like Ms. Shimamura(ph) said they'd stick by the ruling party because they didn't trust the opposition and its many costly pledges.

Ms. SHIMAMURA: (Through Translator) I don't think the opposition can keep all their commitments. We are sure the ruling party will lose this time. They will feel the pain and they will learn from their experience. And I expect they will improve.

LIM: These votes will shake up Japan's sclerotic political system. And analysts say the most important legacy of this election will be the emergence of a true two-party system. But Jeff Kingston from Temple University says this time the voters are voting against the ruling LDP rather than for the Democratic Party.

Professor JEFF KINGSTON (Temple University): Well, the really interesting aspect of these elections, if you look at the polls, the people are voting for change they don't believe in and for a leader they're not all that keen about because the misery index is soaring. If you look at the latest data, unemployment is up, bankruptcies, foreclosures are up. Suicides are up. Exports are imploding. The people are feeling the pain. The ruling LDP is going down. The voters are going to say sayonara and good riddance.

HANSEN: Louisa, so what happens next?

LIM: Well, vote counting is still under way and the final results won't come in until the early hours of Monday morning. The elections here are still very low-tech. Voters have to write in the name of the candidate by hand and the counting takes place by hand, so it might take a while. But these results will come as no surprise to the ruling LDP.

As long as two weeks ago, the leader, Taro Aso, was talking about how to be graceful in defeat. And he said a carp on the chopping board doesn't flinch when the knife touches it. Today, that knife definitely fell on the LDP.

HANSEN: NPR's Louisa Lim in Tokyo. Thank you.

LIM: Thank you.

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