Even though the 2009 election wasn’t a huge surprise when the Democratic Party Of Japan (DPJ) came into power, it was a huge disaster. Based on voter preferences, there’s nothing remarkable about a center-left party ruling Japan. But when it did, it failed miserably.
DPJ: The Promising Contenders
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was created in 1998 by a bunch of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dissidents. The DPJ did fairly well in the elections of 2003 and 2004 before winning big in 2009.
With that electoral victory, expectations were huge. The win was supposed to herald a tectonic shift in Japanese politics. The DPJ was going to transform Japanese foreign and domestic policy. And Japan was going to become a true two-party political system rather than an LDP-led one-party system. But none of that happened.
A Promising Foreign Policy
The DPJ stumbled almost immediately on US-Japanese relations. During the campaign, the party had promised greater independence in Japanese foreign policy.
Rather than playing junior partner to the US, Japan would strike out on its own. It would forge new relationships with its Asian neighbors. A huge part of that new policy would be a reduction of US military bases in Okinawa.
What made this a winning campaign platform was its appeal to old leftist, anti-US sentiment but with a new nationalist flavor that could appeal also to the center.
Failed Military Strategy
But, as soon as the DPJ won, it had to answer a basic question: what would replace military reliance on the United States? One answer was a larger Japanese Self-Defense Force, an idea that appealed to the right-wing of the DPJ, but not the left.
The left-wing wanted to reduce the need for military, but reducing tensions between Japan and China and between Japan and North Korea. So, the plan was basically to not have enemies.
And the goal of a warmer relationship with China quickly collided with reality. A long-simmering territorial dispute with China over some tiny islands at the far edge of Okinawa escalated into a major confrontation. And so, the DPJ found itself stuck between an angry China and the resentful US. And the United States was not inclined to save the DPJ from its mess.
This article comes directly from content in the video series The Rise of Modern Japan. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
DPJ’s Domestic and Economic Policy
The DPJ was similarly flat-footed on the domestic policy. Party leaders weren’t sure whether they wanted to raise taxes in order to reduce the deficit, or do the opposite: ignore the deficit, and boost spending on social welfare programs in order to increase consumer demand.
There was a standard right-left split on economic policy. But Japanese voters were not pleased with the DPJ’s waffling and incoherence on such a basic issue. The public was confused about whether the DPJ was a center-left party or a center-right party like the LDP but maybe less corrupt. Once in power, DPJ leaders had to decide this, but unfortunately, they failed to do so!
Natural and Human Crises
What finished off the DPJ was a series of natural and human disasters in March 2011. First, a massive earthquake struck about 50 miles off the shore of Sendai in northeastern Japan. The earthquake registered at 9 on the Richter scale, making it one of the strongest ever recorded.
The quake triggered massive tsunami waves, and there were only minutes for coastal communities to evacuate. More than 15,000 people lost their lives in the disaster, and hundreds of thousands of homes were left homeless.
The subsequent debacle was even more serious. The tsunami also knocked out power to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and when the backup systems failed, the reactor cooling systems shut down.
The heat buildup caused reactor-containment structures to explode. Radiation spread over a huge area, requiring the evacuation of almost 400,000 people. The disaster left more than four million people without electricity, and over one million without water.
The Downhill Journey
And then came revelations that the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operated the plant, had concealed decades of problems, abetted by the Japanese government, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.
This left the ruling DPJ in an impossible position. They’d campaigned on breaking up the cozy, corrupt relationships between government and industry. So, they wanted to point to TEPCO’s malfeasance and bring attention to the rampant corruption planted by LDP. But since the DPJ was the party in power and the disaster happened during its rule, so the onus was on DPJ.
DPJ’s Incompetent Leadership
Even though DPJ aimed at purging the bureaucracy and public utilities of the corrupt incompetents, they needed TEPCO to stop the reactor from melting down, first. And the public wanted immediate action rather than hearing excuses.
The need of the hour was a competent leader who had the ability to pull off a balancing act. Even though it was a blunder that DPJ inherited, they could have fixed it in a way that instilled the people’s faith and confidence in the party. But the DPJ didn’t have such a leader.
Thus, the DPJ got crushed in the 2012 elections. The party went from 308 seats to 57. It was a bloodbath. The LDP won a simple majority, and it dominated national politics once more.
Common Questions about Why the Democratic Party of Japan Failed to Meet People’s Expectations
The DPJ was created in 1998 by a bunch of LDP dissidents. The DPJ did fairly well in the elections of 2003 and 2004 before winning big in 2009.
With the electoral victory in 2009, the public’s expectations were huge. The win was supposed to herald a tectonic shift in Japanese politics. The DPJ was going to transform Japanese foreign and domestic policy. And Japan was going to become a true two-party political system rather than an LDP-led one-party system.
Inadequate strategies, natural and human disasters coupled with incompetency of the DPJ leaders led to the party’s downfall.