The Japanese prime minister, Taro Aso, has given the green light for an electoral battle that could bring to an end five decades of almost uninterrupted rule by his Liberal Democratic party. Speaking after dissolving parliament ahead of next month’s general election, he did not duck his own responsibility for a series of catastrophic local election defeats.
“I sincerely apologize for my failure to unite the LDP”, he said. “I think the LDP party should humbly reflect upon the nation’s criticism and make a fresh start.” The general election was set for August 30th after the LDP recently lost control of the Tokyo Assembly. The dissolution brought traditional cries of Banzai or long life. But the signs are that the LDP’s remaining time in office could be rather short. The prime minister’s personal popularity is now below 20% according to opinion polls. The surveys suggest the LDP could lose heavily to the opposition Democratic Party, which has never governed. It has pledged to help ordinary people rather than business. But the economic crisis is hitting hard. Japan’s GDP fell by more than 14% in the second quarter. A drop in global demand has plunged manufacturers into crisis; earlier this year output was down by a similar amount. Meanwhile unemployment reached its highest level for over five years. Falling exports have renewed the debate about Japan’s reliance on manufacturing. The recession is the worst since the Second World War and the country is set to lose its position as the world’s second economy to China by next year. Some economists believe the worst is over, thanks partly to massive relaunch plans adopted by the Japanese government. But in Toyota City there is little sign of optimism among the increasing number of redundant car industry workers . The world’s number one carmaker shed thousands of jobs after suffering billions in losses. Many temporary workers have been forced onto the streets after losing their homes as well.