Japanese Opposition Victory Could Force US Rethink in Pacific

Incoming Party Seeks Closer China Ties, End to Mandate for Afghan War

by Jason Ditz, August 30, 2009

Though the final size of their mandate is unclear, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has won a landslide victory, outsting the Liberal Democratic Party which has held a virtually unbroken grasp on power since the 1950s. Japanese analysts are calling the election the most significant change in power in the nation since World War 2.

The DPJ will hold at least 300 seats according to most estimates in the 480 seat lower house, and might even net the 320 seats required for a supermajority, which would give it a virtually unchallengable hold on the government. The massive turnout and support for the opposition in a generally politically apathetic nation was a sign that the Japanese population is increasingly unsatisfied with the government’s reaction to the economic downturn.

But while the DPJ’s first order of business will be its plan of free market decentralization and tax cuts to try to stem rising unemployment, in the long-term it may have a significant impact on the US relationship with the island nation, as the DPJ publicly attacked the LDP for letting the US basically dictate policy.

In the near term, the DPJ is expected to only demand a few key revisions to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the two nations, and cancel the nation’s role in the Afghan War, which it has insisted is in violation of the country’s pacifist constitution. It will also ban the US from stationing nuclear weapons in Japan, a key issue in a nation which 64 years later is still distraught over twin US nuclear attacks.

But the DPJ has promised to keep friendly ties with the US, and its focus on the economy is likely to put major changes to the US deployment on the backburner, at least in the near term. Yet as the party tries to strengthen ties with long-time rival China, in the long term the US may find its still-significant military presence in the nation less and less welcome.

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz