WORLD> Background
Japanese general election in 2009
Updated: 2009-08-27 14:01

General elections in Japan will be held on 30 August 2009 for all of 480 seats of the House of Representatives, which designates a Prime Minister of Japan.

In the election, it is widely expected that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will defeat the ruling coalition (Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito Party), ending its 54 year near-uninterrupted control of government. The voter turnout is also expected to be high.

The last general election took place in 2005 in which the LDP led by popular prime minister Junichiro Koizumi won in landslide, enabling him to complete the privatization of Japan Post. Since then Japan has had three further prime ministers -- Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso -- who have come to power without there being a general election.

The DPJ's policy platforms include: the restructuring of civil service (meaning layoff and pay-cut), monthly allowance to a family with children (26,000 yen per child), cut in gas tax, income support for farmers, free tuition for public high schools, banning of temporary work in manufacturing, raising the minimum-wage to 1,000 yen and halting of increase in sales tax for the next four years.

On 11 June 2008, a non-binding censure motion was passed by parliament's opposition-controlled House of Councillors against Yasuo Fukuda. Filed by the Democratic Party of Japan and two other parties, it was the first censure motion against a prime minister under Japan's post-war constitution.

Ahead of the G8 summit, it attacked his handling of domestic issues including an unpopular medical plan and called for a snap election or his resignation. On 12 June a motion of confidence was passed by the lower house's ruling coalition to counter the censure. Fukuda abruptly announced he was retiring as leader. Taro Aso won the subsequent election, which was held on 22 September 2008.

Media sources speculated that, in the wake of a recent change in leadership, Prime Minister Taro Aso might call elections in late October or early November 2008 while his popularity was still high, but his ratings dropped quickly after his leadership takeover, calling the prospect of early elections into doubt.

There were expectations that the steady decline and numerous scandals of the LDP might lead to the complete extinction of the party and the creation of a new political system, with actual ideologically coherent parties emerging instead of the current system of a shared interest in power with stark ideological differences.

In late June 2009, there were rumours of a planned election date in early August 2009. In prefectural elections in Tokyo, the LDP again lost a lot of seats and was for the first time since 1965 not the largest party in the prefectural assembly. The next day, Aso confirmed these rumours by calling for an election on 30 August 2009.

As soon as the election was called, a campaign was underway by a group of LDP Diet Members to replace Aso as leader. Fully one third of the parliamentary party (including finance minister Kaoru Yosano) were reported to have signed a petition calling for an urgent party meeting to discuss the issue. The BBC reported LDP critics of Aso asserting that an election with him still as leader would be "political suicide".

Prime Minister Aso dissolved the House of Representatives on 21 July 2009.

Former LDP minister Yoshimi Watanabe announced the foundation of a new party, Your Party, on 8 August 2009.

The official campaign started on 18 August 2009.

According to a poll conducted on 22 August by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, 40 percent said they would vote for the DPJ, while 24 percent for the LDP. Since the DPJ does not have the control of majority in the upper house, DPJ leader Hatoyama stated that he would seek a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party and People's New Party, no matter how much the party wins.

Pre-election polls

National weekly magazines have been citing analysts predicting a big loss for the ruling coalition which currently holds two-thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives. Some (e.g., Shūkan Gendai) have said that the LDP could lose as much as half of that.

Many base their predictions on both the low approval rating of the Prime Minister Taro Aso and the devastating loss that the LDP suffered in the recent prefectural election in Tokyo. On August 20 and 21, Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun, leading national newspapers, and Nikkei Shimbun, a financial daily, reported that the DPJ is poised to win over 300 of the 480 contested seats.

On August 22, Mainichi Shimbun went further to predict that the DPJ could win over 320 seats, meaning almost all DPJ candidates would win. Mainichi noted that the DPJ appeared to be doing well in the western part of Japan, a traditional stronghold of the LDP, and that the LDP could lose all of its single-member constituency seats in 15 prefectures, including Hokkaido, Aichi, and Saitama. Also, according to Mainichi, the Japanese Communist Party will probably retain its previous 9 seats, while the Komeito Party and the Social Democratic Party may lose some of their shares.