Japan’s ruling party in trouble
Prime minister faces widespread lack of confidence
TOKYO - Prime Minister Taro Aso, who triggered new elections when he dissolved the powerful lower house of Japan’s Parliament yesterday, launched his party’s fight for survival with a familiar refrain: Reject change.
It’s a message that has kept the ruling Liberal Democrats in power for most of the past 55 years. But Japanese voters are leaning sharply toward something new this time, and Aso’s warnings about the dangers of change may not be enough to prevent a historic loss in next month’s elections.
“It really looks like Japanese voters are simply fed up with the LDP,’’ said Martin Schulz, an economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo. “This is not just a power game right now. This is a shift in sentiment.’’
Aso, who had until October at the latest to disband Parliament, had been under increasing pressure to exercise that power because of his dwindling support ratings and political gridlock with the opposition that has stymied business in Parliament.
He had resisted calling a vote in the hope his low approval ratings would recover. He caved in after his party was routed in local elections last week and members of his own party threatened to dump him.
Hours after Parliament was dissolved, Aso slammed the opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, as having no substantive policies of their own.
“We cannot leave Japan’s economy in their hands,’’ Aso said at an evening news conference. “We cannot leave Japan’s security in the hands of a party without a security policy. Only the LDP can take responsibility for Japan’s future.’’
Acknowledging the odds against him, Aso - known for his verbal gaffes - began his remarks with an apology, a bow, and a promise to do better.
“The economy and protecting people’s livelihoods has been my top priority,’’ he said. “But because of my inadvertent comments, the public lost trust in me and the government. I deeply regret this.’’
He vowed to revive Japan’s economy and suggested that a power shift now could derail an emerging yet fragile recovery.
“We’re only halfway there,’’ Aso said, noting that stimulus measures are starting to pay off.
Japan’s central bank predicts the economy will begin climbing in the second half of this fiscal year through March 2010. But capital spending by companies is falling sharply. And private consumption remains lackluster as unemployment rises.
Analysts have predicted the elections for Parliament’s lower house, to be held on Aug. 30, could be disastrous for the LDP.