First Test For Japan's New Ruling Party: The Economy Japan's likely next prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is in talks Monday to form a new government a day after his party's historic upset of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Hatoyama's center-left Democratic Party of Japan trounced the LDP, winning 308 of the 480 parliamentary seats up for grabs.
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First Test For Japan's New Ruling Party: The Economy

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First Test For Japan's New Ruling Party: The Economy

First Test For Japan's New Ruling Party: The Economy

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Ari Shapiro.

Just one day after national elections, Japan's next prime minister has begun talks on forming a new government. His party won a landslide victory yesterday. They'll be taking over from the Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan almost continuously for half a century. The prime minister-in-waiting has already signaled that his focus will be reviving the world's second largest economy.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Tokyo.

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LOUISA LIM: From the moment the exit polls began, it became apparent a seismic shift is taking place in Japan's political landscape. In just one night, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in power almost uninterrupted for half a century was consigned to the opposition.

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LIM: Victorious candidates celebrated. The untested left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan will soon be running the world's second-largest economy. Winning 308 of the 480 seats on offer, they were handed a huge mandate. But the man who will be Japan's next prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, was sober at his first press conference.

Mr. YUKIO HATOYAMA (Prime Minister-in-Waiting, Japan): (Through translator) We fought this election to change the regime in order to change politics. We won, but we shouldn't be too proud or arrogant. We should make sure that this is the people's victory.

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LIM: At the headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a line of party heavyweights faced the press, bowed and weary. At the center was current Prime Minister Taro Aso, who announced his resignation.

Prime Minister TARO ASO (Japan): (Through translator) Well, the result of this election, yes, it is very severe. But I believe that it is the judgment of the public, and we will have to accept that sincerely.

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LIM: This leaves Japan in uncharted waters. And now the hard work begins for the Democratic Party, particularly figuring out how to deliver on the promises made in its campaign ads. It pledged, among other things, free schooling, a better social security net and a $260 allowance for every child, every month. These will eventually cost around $177 billion a year. Gerald Curtis, a professor at Columbia University, says finding those funds is one of their biggest immediate challenges.

Professor GERALD CURTIS (Political Science, Columbia University): At the top of the list comes how do you pay for the programs that they say they want to implement without blowing the lid of what is already a heavily debt-ridden system? To do that, they have to reduce other programs. Then you run into all kinds of vested interests. They're going to fight like crazy. Will this party have what it takes to push through their programs? They're going to give it a good shot, but it's going to be tough.

LIM: Another major campaign pledge was to wrest power, and especially budget-making power, away from Japan's powerful bureaucracy. Tobias Harris, a Ph.D. student at MIT, writes a blog about Japanese politics. He believes the DPJ has the mandate to make this happen.

Mr. TOBIAS HARRIS (Ph.D. Student, MIT): In that area, they're going to focus a lot of their attention really - in the first year, especially - on changing the balance of power between politicians and bureaucrats. I think they're actually well placed. Part of the reason is just simply that the public's just frustrated with bureaucratic rule, and so the idea of politicians actually being able to determine how public money is spent is something that will get a lot of public support.

LIM: But others aren't so sure. Gerald Curtis from Columbia University says simply declaring war on the bureaucracy isn't the right strategy. With a 114 of the new DPJ members political novices, they're going to need all the help they can get.

Prof. CURTIS: If they succeed in breaking the bureaucracy, they will succeed in making this country ungovernable. You can't rule without using the expertise and the administrative skill of a bureaucrat. The DPJ has to stop just bashing bureaucrats. These politicians themselves, I mean, so many of these DPJ people are elected for the first time. They have to get directions to Diet Building. They don't know how to make - to do anything.

LIM: Meanwhile, the party that's ruled Japan almost uninterrupted for more than half a century will have to get used to being in the opposition. The change of government will probably take place at a special session of parliament in around two weeks.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Tokyo.

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