Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s party appears doomed to defeat in upcoming elections as voters turn to a resurgent opposition promising a more inclusive society, analysts said on Monday.
Battered by a series of gaffes by Aso, ministerial resignations and discontent over its response to the recession, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) faces an end to its half century of almost unbroken rule, they said.
“We are going to see a landslide victory” by the opposition, said Masami Kodama, a professor of politics at Kurume University. “The LDP could possibly fall apart.”
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) - with many LDP defectors in its mixed ranks - has not offered a radically different agenda from the ruling party, but it is riding high thanks to deepening voter discontent with the government, analysts said.
In what was widely seen as a last-ditch attempt to remain in office, Aso on Monday set a date of August 30 for general elections, seeking to quell pressure from within his own party to step down ahead of the national polls.
The LDP, for decades a well-oiled vote gathering machine, has governed Japan almost continuously since 1955, with the exception of one 10-month period in the early 1990s.
It has close ties with Japan’s large corporations as well as the powerful state bureaucracy and also enjoys strong support in rural Japan, making it virtually unbeatable at the polls for decades.
But experts now see a bleak future for the party.
“We are seeing the final phase of the Liberal Democratic Party,” said Jiro Yamaguchi, politics professor at Hokkaido University.
“This revealed the limitation of the single-party rule,” he said.
The LDP won a landslide victory in the last lower house election in 2005 under the popular premier Junichiro Koizumi, but it has badly lost its way since he stepped down in 2006. Aso is Japan’s third prime minister since Koizumi.
The LDP has suffered a series of electoral defeats, including in the upper house election in 2007 and a key Tokyo poll Sunday that was seen as a bell-wether of the general election.
Former internal affairs minister Kunio Hatoyama, once a close associate of the embattled premier, told reporters Monday that going to polls under Aso “is almost like a mass suicide.”
But analysts said that ditching Aso would make little difference for the LDP.
“It’s too late to do anything,” said Takayoshi Shibata, a professor emeritus of politics at Tokyo Keizai University. “They can only brace themselves for defeat.”
The centrist DPJ, which has never run a government, has promised to take a middle road between a welfare state and a free market system, creating a more inclusive society and reducing the power of bureaucrats.
It won 54 seats in Sunday’s polls in the capital to become the largest party in the Tokyo assembly for the first time, while 12 seats went to other opposition and independent candidates.
The LDP won 38 seats in the weekend vote in Tokyo while its coalition partner New Komeito took 23, leaving the ruling bloc three seats short of the 64 needed for a majority.
The results “clearly showed voters have high hopes for a change of government,” the Asahi newspaper said in an editorial.
The top-selling Yomiuri said the defeat would “fuel calls within the LDP for the prime minister to step down.”
“Some people believe the party would plunge into deep confusion, including a possible split-up, if the prime minister goes ahead with an early dissolution,” it warned.