Americans have a potentially big stake in the outcome of the national elections being held Sunday in Japan.
That's because many voters are understandably fed up with the constant parade of scandals that has rocked the Liberal Democratic Party, which has had a monopoly on political power in Japan since 1953. Hardly a day goes by without reports of some corrupt LDP politician receiving favors from a construction contractor or other corporate benefactor in return for favors.Consequently, some observers are looking for the biggest political upheaval in Japan since the end of World War II.
One possible outcome would be a political realignment giving Japan a competitive two-party system for the first time in its recent history, with one party representing the dominant corporate interests and the other party representing long-suffering consumers.
Such a change would clearly benefit American and other foreign businessmen, who have long complained that the tight grip of LDP politicians, top bureaucrats and corporate leaders has conspired to defeat their best efforts to penetrate the rich Japanese market with products costing less than those made in Japan.
But don't start counting on any such gains yet.
New polls indicate the sharp slump in the LDP's fortunes may have been halted just in time to let the party keep clinging to power, albeit in a shaky coalition government with one of Japan's many minority parties. Don't underestimate the ability of Japanese traditionalism and conservativism to keep reasserting itself, now and in the future.
Even if the LDP is turned out of office Sunday, don't expect decades of protectionist red tape and resistance to foreign products to be eliminated quickly or easily.
Despite such hurdles, there's reason to hope for slow progress toward a more open Japan. No longer does the LDP have a monopoly on the principles that made it so popular. Other parties are starting to emulate the LDP's emphasis on family values, a vigorous work ethic and good political relations with the United States.
Consequently, regardless of the outcome of Sunday's voting, Washington should emphasize its willingness to work with other political parties and should keep exerting pressure for Japan to lower its trade barriers.