Japan’s voters cast out the Liberal Democratic Party for only the second time in postwar history on Sunday, handing a landslide victory to a party that campaigned on a promise to reverse a generation-long economic decline and redefine Tokyo’s relationship with Washington.
Many Japanese saw the vote as the final blow to the island nation’s postwar order, which has been slowly unraveling since the economy collapsed in the early 1990s.
In the powerful lower house, the opposition Democrats virtually swapped places with the governing Liberal Democratic Party, winning 308 of the 480 seats, a 175 percent increase that gives them control of the chamber, according to national broadcaster NHK. The incumbents took just 119 seats, about a third of their previous total. The remaining seats were won by smaller parties.
“This has been a revolutionary election,” Yukio Hatoyama, the party leader and presumptive new prime minister, told reporters. “The people have shown the courage to take politics into their own hands.”
Hatoyama, who is expected to assemble a government in two to three weeks, has spoken of the end of American-dominated globalization and the need to reorient Japan toward Asia. His party’s campaign manifesto calls for an “equal partnership” with the United States and a “reconsidering” of the 50,000-strong American military presence here.
One change on the horizon may be the renegotiation of a deal with Washington to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma airfield on the island of Okinawa. Many island residents want to evict the base altogether.
The Democrats, who opposed the American-led war in Iraq, have also said they may end the Japanese navy’s refueling of American and allied warships in the Indian Ocean.
The White House issued a statement on Sunday saying it was “confident that the strong U.S.-Japan alliance and the close partnership between our two countries will continue to flourish” under the new government.