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Five decades later, Japan changes course -

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Five decades later, Japan changes course

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Monday, August 31, 2009 12:30:00

ELEANOR HALL: In Japan voters turned out in large numbers to ensure the end of the Liberal
Democratic Party that had held power there in the country almost continually for more than half a
century.

Likening the win to the change which the United States went through to elect Barack Obama, Prime
Minister-Elect and leader of the Democratic Party of Japan Yukio Hatoyama signalled big changes in
the country which is still struggling with an ageing population, increasing unemployment and low
growth.

Earlier I spoke to our North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy.

Mark just how big a change is this for Japan?

MARK WILLACY: Well the Opposition Leader who will now become the Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, he
himself calls it a revolution.

And in fact if you look at most Japanese, they have just grown up. They have only lived with a
Liberal Democratic Party government. So it is a big gamble by them. This is a risk averse culture
and they have decided to have a punt on the Opposition. So from that respect, it is quite a seismic
change.

ELEANOR HALL: The result had been predicted but was the size of this win for Mr Hatoyama's party a
surprise?

MARK WILLACY: Not really. That had also been predicted. It was said he would win about two-thirds
of the seats in the Lower House. He has come in at around that level. He is probably a few short.

But I think many in the ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party which has ruled for all but 10
months of the last half a century thought in the back of their mind, maybe they might even hang on.
Maybe this defeat if it came wouldn't be quite as bad. But this is a proud and ruthless political
machine that has been reduced basically to a rub.

ELEANOR HALL: So what does the future hold for the LDP now?

MARK WILLACY: Well the LDP after 54 years of almost unbroken rule finds itself decimated. It is
basically sitting in the Opposition seats in the Parliament and it has got to sit and think how do
we rebuild.

This is a proud party. It is a ruthless political machine. It is not used to sitting on the
Opposition benches.

The fact is, basically, the electorate got sick of the LDP. It had given it year after year after
year of chances. It had basically given in return four Prime Ministers in four years which isn't
the sort of continuity the Japanese people wanted.

So it has really got to get its act together. It has got to find a strong leader. It has got to
find a set of coherent policies that the public really wants to hear about. It has got four years
to do it and you know given the nature of Japanese politics, what we've seen in the last 24 hours,
maybe they can claw their way back if Mr Hatoyama and his new Government doesn't deliver on its
promises.

ELEANOR HALL: And Mr Hatoyama himself has an interesting political pedigree, doesn't he?

MARK WILLACY: He certainly has. He comes from a family which is often described as the Kennedys of
Japan. On one side he has a grandfather who was the prime minister of Japan. On the other side he
has a prime minister who founded the tyre giant Bridgestone.

So he's both from a blue-blooded political and a blue-blooded business background. He is a very
rich man. He is married to a TV personality.

He certainly does have the air of the Kennedys about him somewhat which is in Japan not often
something you get. And by way of background his nickname is the "alien" and he's nicknamed the
alien not only by his political opponents but by members of his own party and apparently refers to
his somewhat quirky appearance.

He has got this rather interesting shock of greyish black hair that sort of tends to stick up in a
tight bunch so that's, he's known as the "alien" but he certainly captured the hearts and minds of
the Japanese people for now at least.

ELEANOR HALL: And as you say Mr Hatoyama is talking about revolutionary change. What are we likely
to see from this new Government?

MARK WILLACY: Well what he really wants to do is shift the focus of Government from supporting the
big end of town, the corporations which were always supported by the Liberal Democratic Party. He
wants more of a social safety net. He wants to help consumers, the workers, the vulnerable in
Japanese society.

And Japan is certainly suffering from record unemployment. It has been in a recession. It is slowly
turning that around. And it's also struggling with issues like deflation and also heavy government
debt. We have heard that basically Japan's government debt is nearly at a level of twice the GDP
which is a $6 trillion economy so that is quite a figure that you really don't want to have.

So Mr Hatoyama has certainly got many challenges ahead. But he is also offering a lot of spending
so it is going to be interesting to see how he keeps spending down while also keeping government
debt down.

ELEANOR HALL: With the majority that he has got in the diet, is he going to be able to get his
revolution program through?

MARK WILLACY: He should be able to because there is one thing, another thing in his favour and that
is the fact that he also controls the Upper House. The Democratic Party of Japan controlled the
Upper House before this election. It now controls the Lower House.

Basically he should have a rubber stamp for his revolutionary program as he calls it so really
there is no excuse. If he fails to implement his manifesto, he can blame no-one but himself.

ELEANOR HALL: Mark Willacy in Tokyo, thank you.

And Mark Willacy is the ABC's North-Asia correspondent.