Last month, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won an overwhelming victory over the country's long dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The result marked only the second time the LDP has lost power since its creation in 1955.
The DPJ was founded in 1998 as an opposition party forged from outcasts of the LDP and the Japan Socialist Party, as well as other smaller parties and a sizable cadre of younger politicians. This unlikely mix had dealt an earlier blow to the LDP in 2007, when it became the largest party in the upper house of the Japanese Diet. Now, with its victory in the general election, it will form a new government and select a prime minister -- in all likelihood, Yukio Hatoyama, who replaced the visionary and forceful Ichiro Ozawa as leader of the party last May.
But despite the DPJ's convincing triumph, many observers in both Japan and the West remain doubtful about its capacity to govern. Some believe that the party's members hold fundamentally contradictory positions; others assert that regardless of the party's intentions it will be unable to control Japan's powerful bureaucracy. Such fears are misplaced, however. Although international reaction since the election has focused on the DPJ's calls to move Japan away from the market reforms of the past several decades, the party's electoral platform hews to the political mainstream.
Specifically, it has pledged to shore up the country's pensions and health systems, protect farmers and small and medium-size businesses (both traditional LDP constituencies), assist the swelling ranks of the working poor and temporary laborers, and provide child allowances. To fund such programs, the party promises to cut wasteful spending -- a side effect of decades of misrule by the LDP and a bloated bureaucracy.
Leaders of the DPJ have argued that the bureaucratic state has kept Japan from responding to the many problems facing the country: an aging, shrinking population, stagnant economic growth in the provinces, inefficient and corrupt government institutions, and an obsolete economic growth model.