Japan's PM Aso Calls for General Election

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Toru Hanai / Reuters

A man passes posters of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso in front of the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo on July 13, 2009

As the Japanese economy continues to struggle, Japanese people are voicing their readiness for political change — and they'll get a chance to vote on it before the summer ends.

Following his Liberal Democratic Party's bitter defeat over the weekend in Tokyo's municipal elections, Prime Minister Taro Aso announced the lower house of the Japanese parliament will be dissolved on July 21 and a general election will be held Aug. 30. Aso's decision ended months of speculation as to when his battered administration and fellow LDP lawmakers would finally have to face voters. The country's last general election was in September 2005.

If recent election results are any indication, the Japanese electorate is prepared to end the LDP's long stint running the country. In Tokyo's Metropolitan Assembly elections, considered a bellwether of the country's mood, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) for the first time won a majority — a stinging defeat for the LDP and its ruling coalition. DPJ members ended up with 54 seats, compared with 38 for LDP candidates. "This [win] is big enough to indicate that, within the country, the trend is not good for the LDP," says Robert Dujarric, director of Temple University's Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies.

Some political experts say it is too soon to predict that the DPJ will win a majority in the general election based on results in Tokyo because the city's concentration of wealth and population density are different from those in the rest of Japan. But dissatisfaction with leadership is running high. Japan is reeling from a jobless rate that has reached a five-year high of 5.2%, and industrial output is down one-third from a year ago. A recent poll conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper showed that 41% of Japanese would vote for the DPJ in a general election, while just 24% would cast ballots for the LDP. "Ordinary people are seeking a change of government," says Takao Toshikawa, editor of political newsletter Tokyo Insideline. "I dare say that DPJ will have an enormous victory, perhaps a landslide."

A DPJ win would be a sea change in Japanese politics. LDP politicians have held power in Japan for most of the past five decades.

Some LDP members are calling for Aso's resignation, which they believe would improve the party's electoral chances. Those calls have increased following the defeat in the Tokyo elections. Aso has so far refused to step down as Prime Minister.