Lines at polling places spilled out into Tokyo streets Sunday as Japanese citizens showed up in droves to vote in a parliamentary election that is expected to yield a historic shift in political power.
With fours hours left until polls closed, 41 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots. While the number is slightly lower than the last elections in 2005, absentee ballots were 162 percent higher this time round, officials said. Combined, the overall turnout could reach near-record numbers. Masayuki Nakamura, who voted for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), said he did so because he was frustrated with the lack of an economic policy asJapan emerges from its worst recession since World War II. “Maybe with this change of party, something will change,” Nakamura said. “That’s what I’m expecting. The money’s been going the wrong way. I hope the money will now go toward jobs and creating a safety net.” Before the election, poll after poll suggested the vote will oust the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, from power. The LDP has been in nearly continuous control of Japan’s parliament for more than five decades. But the country’s economic crisis has disgruntled many who are displeased with how slowly the country is emerging from the downturn.
Disgruntled Japanese prepare to vote
Japan emerges from recession
Polls show the opposition, the DPJ, 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 before. 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. 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, while credited for lifting the economy slightly out of recession, are not being credited with helping households feel more secure about a lasting economic recovery.