Political shift likely as Japanese head to polls

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has approval ratings in the teens.
Voters in Japan will turn out for parliamentary elections Sunday in what poll after poll shows will be a historic shift in political power to oust the ruling party.

The Liberal Democratic Party has been in nearly continuous control of Japan’s parliament for more than five decades. But the country’s worst economic crisis since World War II has led a normally sedate electorate to the polls, disgruntled with how slowly the country is emerging from the downturn. Polls show that the opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan, will snag more than 300 of the 480 seats up for grabs in the lower house of Japan’s parliament. If the DPJ does win a majority, it will be the first time it will govern the world’s second-largest economy. Leading the DPJ is Yukio Hatoyama, who has been mobbed at street rallies by supporters, the kind of support the opposition has never seen. Hatoyama is touting an Obama-style message of change, pledging to raise the minimum wage and discourage hiring through agencies or on temporary contracts. That message is gaining traction in a country that is witnessing historic highs in unemployment and experiencing ramifications like homelessness for the first time.

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Voters are looking for somebody to pay, and if the polls are right, that target is the current prime minister, Taro Aso. Aso’s approval ratings dwell in the teens, and his stimulus packages, though credited for lifting the economy slightly out of recession, are not being credited with helping households feel more secure about a lasting economic recovery. The LDP, in political ads and stump speeches across Japan, says the DPJ is making empty promises and can’t pay for its proposed programs.