Japan's Voters Anxious for Change

By: Blaine Hardin; Washington Post
By: Blaine Hardin; Washington Post
Japanese voters are on the brink of doing something they have not been willing to do in more than half a century: throw the bums out.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, March 31, 2009. Aso has ordered his government to compile fresh stimulus measures to help lift the country out of recession. He said a third package is needed to lift the world's second-largest economy out of recession. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's opposition Democratic Party is surging toward what polls predict will be a landslide victory this Sunday. It would end 54 years of near-continuous rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which led Japan to stupendous postwar wealth but in recent years has become stagnant, sclerotic and poisonously unpopular.

The opposition party's leader, Yukio Hatoyama, 62, an elegantly attired, Stanford-educated engineer, seems to derive much of his popularity from the simple act of being a sentient replacement for Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose tone-deaf leadership over the past year has made him an object of derision, even in his own party.

In the election's final week, Hatoyama is drawing big crowds for his signature stump speech, which savages "the long-term reign of one party gone rotten."

Although voters seem energized by the opportunity to flush the LDP down the drain of history, they are much less certain about what will replace it.

"I am not sure of what the Democratic Party is saying or what it will do, but there has to be a change in power," said Hideo Enomoto, 58, who sells industrial machines and who listened this week as Hatoyama spoke outside a commuter train station during the evening rush hour.

Senior LDP leaders acknowledged this week that the Democratic Party is on the verge of a historic win that may provide it with a commanding two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament and the ability to decide policy all by itself. The Democratic Party already controls the less powerful upper house.

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