Railing against the wrong enemy


Mr Koizumi is playing a big role in this election too. He is not on the ballot, after shamelessly betraying his own anti-dynastic principles by bequeathing the right to run for his seat to his son. But he still looms large—these days, as a target for both Mr Hatoyama and Mr Aso. Both men appear more intent on laying into his legacy of free-market reforms, though some predated his rule from 2001-06, than on attacking each other. They blame his removal of a ban on temporary workers in manufacturing for soaring inequality and high rates of poverty in a country that used to pride itself on being almost universally middle-class. But neither has come up with a very convincing alternative.


In an article this month, Mr Hatoyama railed against American-led “market fundamentalism” that, he said, the LDP had embraced since Mr Koizumi’s leadership. But his alternative is a mushy-sounding concept, yuai, that mixes up the Chinese characters for friendship and love. He calls it fraternity, and says it means that activities such as agriculture—already under Fort Knox-like protection in Japan—will not be left “at the mercy of the tides of globalism”. Mr Aso has likewise pledged to break with “excessive market fundamentalism”.


Such views have helped shape both parties’ manifestos. The DPJ’s policy platform, for instance, proposes undoing one of the main Koizumi reforms by banning the use of temporary labour in manufacturing. It also wants to raise minimum-wage levels. Exporters fighting for business in China deplore both policies. Yet analysts say Mr Hatoyama, who at a recent press conference asked an aide to field questions on economics, will have little influence on—or even interest in—economic policy. Also, an upper-house election is due in 2010. This may limit the DPJ’s ambitions; its priority is likely to be restructuring the civil service, where it can most easily score political points.


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