Monday, July 13, 2009


Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan has reportedly decided to call a general election for the lower house of the Diet (parliament), to be held on August 30.

Aso leads the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has had a near-continuous hold on power for half a century. I don't know that any party has put together a similar record of hegemony in any country with as well-functioning a democracy as post-World War II Japan.

Now, the LDP looks set for the first extended period out of power in its history. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has already taken control of the relatively-weak upper house of the Diet, and holds a substantial lead in opinion polls for the impending election.

In an upcoming series of posts, I plan to trace the political history of post-1945 Japan, to show how the country, and its imperilled governing party, got to this stage.

Japan has traditionally been called "The Land of the Rising Sun".

The country has suffered economic stagnation for the past two decades. It is faring worse than most, in the current worldwide recession. There has been political instability, with its political system now heading further into uncharted waters. It faces geopolitical challenges from a resurgent China, and from instability in the nearby Korean Peninsula.

In light of all that, I'm reminded of something that Benjamin Franklin said, at the American Constitutional Convention that was held here in Philadelphia in 1787. An image of half of the sun sat atop the back of the presiding officer's chair. As the Convention was wrapping up its business, Franklin told his fellow delegates:

I have often ... in the course of this session ... looked at that ... without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.

Perhaps Japan's general election will help decide whether or not that troubled country becomes "The Land of the Setting Sun".

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