Tokyo polls bring uncertainty for Taiwan

In the wake of the stunning defeat handed to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday's Tokyo Municipal Assembly elections, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has declared that "Japan's future transformation has begun in Tokyo."
The new DPJ slogan matches the mood of the Japanese electorate. Thanks to intense dissatisfaction with LDP governance, voters lifted the DPJ's vote share by a whooping 16.3 percentage points to 40.8 percent, while the LDP dropped 4.8 percentage points to 25.9 percent. The LDP's coalition partner New Komeito, with 13.2 percent, was almost overtaken by the Japan Communist Party with 12.6 percent.
Out of the 127 seats, the DPJ snared 54 seats (up from 34), while the LDP dropped 10 seats to 38 seats and New Komeito boosted its delegation by one to 23 seats, while the JCP dropped five seats to eight with other smaller groups splitting the remaining slots.
No less dramatic was the sharp jump in vote turnout to 54.5 percent, the highest in a Tokyo municipal council election since 1993.
The transfer of political power in Japan from the LDP-New Komeito coalition into the hands of the DPJ is nearly a certainty in the wake of the decision by embattled LDP Prime Minister Aso Taro to call for a full re-election of the Diet's lower House of Representatives poll on Aug. 30.
Although the Tokyo Municipal Assembly polls are a local election, analysts see the result as reflecting the overall view of Japan's largest city toward the current political situation and conclude that the majority of Tokyo citizens hope that the long-time ruling party will step aside and give the DPJ a chance to show how it can administer Japan.
However, although LDP suffered a severe blow and remains mired in factional infighting, the DPJ's lack of national administrative experience will inevitably affect the degree of confidence from voters accustomed to decades of "one-party dominant" LDP rule.
Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether the DPJ will be able to win an outright majority and, in that case, differences among its coalition partners will also affect the consistency, quality and forcefulness of its administration.
Even if the DPJ wins an outright but undoubtedly narrow majority, the opposition party is vulnerable to splits that could place political initiative back into the LDP's conservative hands.
Therefore, the upcoming Diet election is likely to produce another weak government in Tokyo whose voice in world and regional affairs will remain far weaker than its Japan's economic and military clout merits.
Since former LDP prime minister Koizumi Junichiro began his five years in office in April 2001, the diplomatic strategy of Japan based on an "arc of peace and prosperity" suffered numerous setbacks, especially in the years of intense antagonism between the governing and opposition parties and the transformation of the prime minister's slot into a revolving door with three occupants in as many years after Koizumi departed in September 2006.
Whether Japan can regain an active diplomatic voice in international affairs and contribute to East Asian peace and stability remains open to question and whether Japan will be able to maintain a leadership position in Asian affairs may well be determined by the results of the August 30 poll.
In fact, Japan's security role in East Asia has already been undergoing gradual change.
In the wake of the emergence of crises in North Korea and the Taiwan Strait in the 1990s, the gradual "Finlandization" of Southeast Asia under dominance by the authoritarian People's Republic of China, the evident tilting by South Korea toward Beijing and the weakening of United States influence in Asia in the wake of the Iraq debacle and the global financial crisis, the center of political gravity in Japan has also begun to tilt toward Beijing.
If the DPJ takes office, its foreign policy positions will undoubtedly reflect its previous strident objections to the LDP government's decision to despatch Self-defense Force (SDF) naval forces to the Indian Ocean and its own past insistence that any overseas assignment of SDF forces must be approved by a United Nations resolution.
Sino-Japanese relations will naturally continue to be a core link in Tokyo's foreign policy, but the the state of the Japanese economy will be the decisive factor in determining the direction of Japanese domestic politics.
Given Japan's difficult economic and social situation, Tokyo will undoubtedly welcome a fast pace of growth in the PRC economy in hopes of boosting merchandise exports to the Chinese market.
Aso was perhaps the vanguard of the pro-Taiwan forces in the LDP and his certain departure from the political stage in August may well end the eight-year period of a Taiwan-friendly governments in Japan.
The likely assumption of power by the DPJ may well bring new skies and hopes for meaningful change in Japan's turbid political structure, but will also entail a new period of uncertainty in relations between Taiwan and Japan until the DPJ develops its own global and regional diplomatic vision.