Uncertainty in Japan -- What It Means

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan answers questions during a press conference in Tokyo on June 4, 2010. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

“Just a month after former grassroots political activist Naoto Kan took the helm of Japan’s government with approval ratings running over 60 percent, voters have handed him the worst imaginable outcome," said Asia Society Associate Fellow Ayako Doi. "Instead of adding a few seats for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) so it could govern on its own... it lost 10 seats and its partner was decimated."

She said "though the DPJ still has a solid majority in the more powerful Lower House, Sunday's results ensure a continuation of gridlock and political paralysis in Tokyo, which saw four prime ministers come and go in the last four years as their legislative initiatives were blocked by the opposition."

“The situation may be worse now, because the DPJ's majority in the Lower House is not large enough to override a rejection by the opposition in the Upper House. Victims of a so-called 'crooked Diet' (equivalent to 'hung Parliament' in the UK) will include a host of fiscal and economic measures to address Japan’s stagnant economy, its soaring budget deficits, and problems associated with a rapidly aging population. Beyond that, the result jeopardizes a plan to relocate the Futenma U.S. Marine air station in Okinawa to a less populated area on the island, which has already emerged as a major irritant in the alliance with Washington.

Angry with a flip-flop by Kan's predecessor Yukio Hatoyama, Okinawa voters punished the DPJ candidate on Sunday, giving the one seat assigned to the prefecture to the LDP. With a couple of local elections coming up later this year, it will take a miracle for Kan to find a way out on the Futenma issue without alienating the Okinawans or upsetting relations with the US -- or both. Sunday's setbacks are also causing a lot of finger-pointing within the ideologically diverse DPJ, raising a distinct possibility that Kan's leadership will be severely challenged in a party election due in September.”

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