Japan once again looks like having a close election contest later this year with a new leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Yukio Hatoyama, doing well in the first opinion poll since he replaced previous DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa. The poll , conducted for the Mainichi Shimbun at the weekend, had 34 percent of the public saying that Mr Hatoyama would be most suitable as prime minister, compared to just 21 percent supporting incumbent Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Last month the Mainichi polling had Prime Minister Aso rating better than his then opponent Mr Ozawa who was embroiled in a scandal over illegal fund raising.
Swapping the candidate at the top of the ticket has clearly restored the DPJ's chances of winning at the election which must be held before 6 September this year. If Mr Hatoyama is successful it would be only the second time since 1955 that the Prime Minister was not an LDP member. In the mid 1990s the departure of Mr Ozawa, a long time LDP stalwart, resulted in its only loss of power since its inception.
The Japan Times describes the climate in which the election will be held as being one where "poverty is becoming a major problem that is threatening the basic social fabric of this nation." In an editorial this morning the paper says 'what is particularly worrisome is the replication of poverty as children from low-income families are unable to benefit from higher education. The government needs to work out effective support measures for low-income families, especially single-mother households, to prevent the nation heading into what members of the government's Council and Economic and Fiscal Policy have termed a 'society of lost hope.' ''