Monday, 31 August 2009

Plus ça change…

The more things change, the French say, the more they stay the same.

We should salute the courage of the Japanese people who have just voted, massively it appears, to break with a consensus that has kept a single party, the Liberal Democrat Party or LDP, constantly in in office since 1955 with only a single eight-month interlude in 1993-1994.

While we’re in the business of saluting them, we ought also to acknowledge the extraordinary patience they showed in sticking with the LDP for so long, through thick and thin, mostly thin since the 1990s. It’s a tribute to the forbearance of the Japanese that they held back from delivering the LPD a bloody nose until yesterday.

That’s when it all changed. Official results aren’t in yet, but it looks like the new Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ is going to emerge with over 300 out of 480 parliamentary seats while the LDP will be reduced to little over 100. This is pretty much the reverse of the position of the two parties before the election.

So it sounds like a breath of fresh air. The people have spoken. Perhaps the new Prime Minister will speak for the people.

At least, that’s how things feel until you look at the detail. Just who is Yukio Hatoyama, the Prime Minister elect?

Well, through his father’s side of the family, he’s the great grandson of a former Speaker of the Diet (Parliament), the grandson of a former Prime Minister and founder of the LDP, and the son of a former Foreign Minister. Nor did his mother lack significance: her family founded the Bridgestone tyre company.

There’s an even more amusing aspect to all this. Yesterday’s Prime Minister, Taro Aso, has resigned as leader of the LDP, recognising his responsibility for the crushing defeat. A well-placed candidate to take over from Aso is Kunio Hatoyama, who is – wait for it - Yukio’s younger brother. The two of them worked together to set up the DPJ but then fell out, at which point Kunio went back to the LDP and eventually made it into government. As things now stand, the two brothers may find themselves as respective leaders of the government and the opposition. Aren’t family values wonderful?

On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that our worthy Yukio Hatoyama has the ideal background to be a new broom or a voice for the people. As hard as it is to believe the same thing of David Cameron, leader of the British Conservative Party, who of course claims he will be those very things. As hard as it is to believe that a camel can be persuaded to pass through the eye of a needle, I suppose. But then David Cameron is so self-sufficient, he might just be able to oil the camel for the job. Who knows whether Hatoyama may not be just as unctuous.

Anyway, let’s offer at least qualified congratulations to the Japanese. They’ve made a change. It’s going to be interesting to see whether it turns out to be just more of the same.

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