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How Hatoyama Will Lead

Author: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
September 14, 2009


Rarely has so huge a victory been followed by so short a honeymoon. Even before the Democratic Party of Japan trounced the Liberal Democrats on Aug. 30, pundits were warning that the DPJ didn't have what it takes to govern well. Experts argue that the Democrats lack experience, are internally divided, have no ideological coherence, and favor policies that may worsen Japan's crisis. There is something to the charges-but they overstate the case.

During the campaign, the LDP tried to paint its opponents as novices unfamiliar with real-world policymaking. Many commentators also noted that key Democrats were former LDP members, suggesting the new party wouldn't be able to govern effectively. It's true that many DPJ leaders, including Yukio Hatoyama, the prime-minister-to-be, and Ichiro Ozawa, Hatoyama's predecessor, began their careers in the ruling party. But this could prove to be a source of strength, not weakness. For one thing, it undermines the charge that DPJ members are all inexperienced. Leadership is in Hatoyama's blood; his grandfather was a key advocate of liberal democracy in Japan's early postwar years. Naoto Kan, meanwhile-the DPJ's cofounder-proved his chops in 1996 as health minister, when he championed the needs of Japan's HIV/AIDS patients. And while opinions are divided about Ozawa, no one can dispute the fact that he's a political veteran.

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