Interest high among foreign media in ‘historic’ election

by and

The Democratic Party of Japan’s landslide victory election has stirred interest among foreign media, who generally view the ousting of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled almost without interruption for 54 years, as a positive sign of change.

In addition to front-page coverage, the Joong Ang daily, one of South Korea’s three biggest newspapers, ran an eight-page feature on the DPJ victory.

Although the Japanese-language editorial on its Web site credited the victory more to public disapproval of the LDP than outright support for the DPJ, it expressed hope that the presumptive next prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, will avoid visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Class-A war criminals as well as Japan’s war dead, and work to give Koreans living in Japan the right to vote in local elections.

The paper’s Tokyo-based reporter, Kim Dong Ho, said Koreans are hopeful the DPJ will take a different approach to war history.

“LDP leaders visited Yasukuni Shrine and implemented a history textbook that glorified the war, but we hope that the DPJ will not follow this,” he said, noting that divergent views of history have clouded Japan-Korea relations.

The Guardian, a leading British newspaper, ran the election results as its lead foreign story.

“Japanese politics stories are always difficult to sell in British newspapers, but I think this time there was genuine interest in the fact that after so long Japanese voters were preparing to break those ties with the LDP and try something new,” said its Tokyo correspondent, Justin McCurry, who describes the result as “a huge change” in Japanese politics.

The election outcome is widely seen as the result of disillusionment with the LDP rather than a gesture of faith in the DPJ, and in that sense the Japanese political party system is starting to resemble that of the U.K., according to McCurry, who has been reporting for the Guardian in Japan since 2003.

“When, as most people expect, Labour loses the (British) election next year, it’s not going to be because voters are suddenly attracted to the Conservative manifesto, it will be because they’re fed up with the Labour government. And we’ve just seen exactly that same trend bringing the DPJ into power in Japan,” he said.

The Tokyo correspondent for RTL France broadcasting, Joel Legendre-Koizumi, also considers the election “historic.”

“Japan finally rediscovered the existence of a healthy political life after half a century of complacency and apathy for democratic debate,” he said in a live report on Sunday.

He told his French audience that Japan has opted for a clear change in politics owing to frustration with the current economic situation, referring to the outcome as a small revolution.

Tim Kelly, a reporter for Forbes, the U.S.-based business magazine, said he covered the election closely because of its impact on foreign investors.

“I wrote several stories about it this time because it is the first time the DPJ has come into power and it has an impact on the investing community.”

He pointed out that the DPJ’s plan to redistribute wealth and give purchasing power to consumers, for example through a child allowance, will prompt a change in the dynamics of investment.

But Kelly said he was wary of what he sees as Hatoyama’s critical attitude toward free markets and globalization, as expressed in the DPJ leader’s recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times.

“I found it quite disturbing he talked about how globalization had damaged Japan, but he seems to overlook the fact that Japan needs free markets in order to sell exports, as it is an export-driven economy,” he said.

In the U.S., observers were initially concerned about the impact on Japan’s dispatch of the Maritime Self-Defense Force to the Indian Ocean, according to Kelly.

“Whether Japan will pull back from that kind of cooperation (as the DPJ has suggested) will be closely watched and if they do that is going to hurt relations,” he said. “There will be pressure on the DPJ, and I think they will backtrack on their decision.”

Meanwhile, the Italian press has been watching Japan’s election particularly closely owing to the similarity of the two countries’ political histories, according to Pio d’Emilia, a reporter for Sky TG24 Italy.

“We both had limited democracy after the war, and no real change of power for the last 50 years,” said d’Emilia, noting that Italy’s Christian Democracy party was the dominant force from the end of the war until the 1990s.

But d’Emilia said he was dismayed by the seeming lack of emotional involvement in politics among Japanese at such a historic moment.

“When Italy realized the change of government 10 years ago, people celebrated in the streets until dawn” and it was talked about in public places the next day, as was the case in the U.S. when Barack Obama won the presidential election earlier this year, he said.

In comparison, he saw no particular emotional change among Japanese.

“It wasn’t a political vote yesterday, it was a technical vote, out of desperation and disgust for the LDP.”