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Japan's Opposition Elected In Historic Victory

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Japan's Opposition Elected In Historic Victory

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Japan's Opposition Elected In Historic Victory

Japan's Opposition Elected In Historic Victory

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Voters in Japan threw out the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for only the second time since the conservative party was formed, shortly after World War II. NPR's Louisa Lim talks to Guy Raz.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz. Voters in Japan have taken an historic political leap. They threw out the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for only the second time since that center-right party was formed shortly after World War II. And they gave the opposition a landslide victory that will make its leader, Yukio Hatoyama, the new prime minister.

NPR's Louisa Lim is in Tokyo.

And Louisa, would you bring us up to date on the latest numbers?

LOUISA LIM: Yes, Guy. Well, the election count is now complete, and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has won 308 seats out of 480. The ruling LDP was absolutely humiliated. It won just 119 seats. And we've seen, over the last few hours, we've seen the current prime minister, Taro Aso, conceding defeat, and he said the result was gut-wrenching, worse than he had expected.

It is an unprecedented result, which has totally redrawn the political landscape in Japan. It's the first time since the end of World War II that any opposition party has won a single party majority in the lower house, and no party has ever won more than 300 seats. So it is an extraordinary result.

RAZ: Well, why did the voters oust the ruling LDP?

LIM: Well, voters were just desperate for change. I mean, they are very angry and frustrated with the LDP's policies, and they wanted to use the ballot box to let them know. And when I asked voters why they weren't voting for the LDP, the answers that they came up with most often were because they were worried about the growing rich-poor divide. They were worried about unemployment, which is at a post-war high, and they were concerned about the welfare system and the future of this rapidly aging society.

If you think about it, Japan's the only developed economy which has, on average, shrank over the past 20 years. And people have seen their lives getting worse, and they blame the LDP, which has been in power for so long. So they just simply didn't want to put up with it anymore.

RAZ: Louisa, what do we know about the incoming prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama, the man who will lead one of the world's biggest economies?

LIM: Well, Yukio Hatoyama is really very blue-blooded. His grandfather was a prime minister, and in fact, his grandfather ousted the grandfather of Taro Aso, the man who's currently prime minister. So that tells you something about the dynastic nature of Japanese politics.

Anyway, Yukio Hatoyama is 62 years old. He's very well-educated. He has a PhD from Stanford in engineering. And he used to be a member of the LDP and he defected to found the DPJ, and in fact, many members of his party used to be former LDP members. And when it comes to policy, some say there aren't that many differences between the DPJ and the ruling LDP.

One analyst actually described his party as LDP light with leftist characteristics. But it's also - it's a big tent. It also includes former socialists, left-wing activists. So we may see some rifts emerge. We may see some muddled thinking. So he'll have to rein his party in, make sure that he can install party discipline.

RAZ: Louisa, put this into historical context for us. The ruling LDP, they have dominated Japanese politics since 1955. Where does the party and its leader, Taro Aso, go from here?

LIM: Well, they will be the opposition, which for just a - which just, I mean, just a while back, that would have been unthinkable for them. And it's important to note that they didn't just lose. They got kicked at these polls. I mean, some of the biggest names were defeated, former Cabinet members, but also people who were seen as rising stars and about half of the leaders of the party factions. So it'll be the end of the faction system, some are saying, and that's the system whereby the party is divided into different power bases.

Taro Aso has already announced that he'll be stepping down, and some stay that this could mean a real power vacuum at the top of the party. And it also means a real re-think for the LDP of its political philosophy and its structures. And today's Daily Yomiuri, that's a Japanese paper, it said in its editorial that the LDP will have to rebuild itself almost from scratch if it wants to be a viable political force.

RAZ: That's NPR's Louisa Lim in Tokyo. Thanks, Louisa.

LIM: Thank you.

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