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|A silver lining for Japan|
The Guardian - February 20th 2009
The economic suffering here has been harsh and long, but at last political change is coming
In the race to report the worst economic contraction among rich countries this year,
Many Japanese would find that hard to believe. Unemployment is rising sharply; the big, famous Japanese names such as
So where is the silver lining to all those clouds? It lies in politics, and the sharp kick in the pants that the economic crisis is about to give to the old political elite. A general election must be held by October at the latest, and could be forced much sooner. The same outfit - the Liberal Democratic party, which is actually a conservative group - has run the country for the whole of the past half century, barring nine months in 1993. The LDP survived even the country´s stagnation during the 1990s, when
As a result, the main opposition, the Democratic party of
More than that, however, this opportunity matters because in
The public pension scheme is in disarray, with the government having lost 50m pension records and many people distrusting the state´s promises. And, for all its fabled equality and social cohesion, this is a country where there is only a scant safety net for the unemployed, whose numbers are about to rise dramatically. Many of the new unemployed will be part-time and non-contract workers with low pay and few protections: new labour laws in 2001-03 enabled manufacturers to switch to cheap workers, raising profits but also enabling them to slash costs rapidly.
It is a country, in other words, that is in desperate need of a change of government, and the election of a party dedicated to repairing broken social services as well as shaking up the economy. No doubt as and when the DPJ wins power, it will bring disappointments and its own occasionally shambolic ministers. No matter. The important thing in a democracy is to punish those who have failed and to bring in a new crowd capable of making new mistakes.