In 1994, the first coalition to manage to wrest power from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in modern Japanese history fell apart amid infighting, but from its ashes rose the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
Seen as the first party to stand a chance of taking power from the LDP, the DPJ goes into an Aug. 30 election confident that its popular slogan "seiken kotai" (political change) has struck a chord with voters. While that may be true, the party does not have the full trust of voters. (In a recent Asahi Shimbun survey, 83 percent of respondents said they did not believe either party could fund the proposals put forward in their manifestos).
Formed in 1996, the DPJ is a centrist party, and was launched with Diet members from a number of small parties, including New Party Sakigake -- a conservative ecologist party -- and the Social Democratic Party. From the start, Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan were prominent figures within the party, and passed the leadership between themselves until 2004. The party's objective has always been to take power from the LDP.
Perhaps the most significant event in the DPJ's growth came in 2003, when Hatoyama came to an agreement with political veteran Ichiro Ozawa to have his group, the Liberal Party, to merge the two parties. After this, as well as bringing the party an additional 8 seats in the Diet, the DPJ now had an experienced negotiator and well-respected politician in Ozawa.
By 2006, Ozawa was the head of the party, and with him at the helm, the party took the most seats in a 2007 upper house election, and the stage was set for two years of political jostling, with the LDP controlling the lower house and the DPJ the upper house.
While ultimate power in the Diet lies in the lower house, the DPJ has been able to use its majority in the upper house to slow down bills it did not want to see passed, and to pressure the LDP. Since the 2007 victory, the DPJ has essentially been waiting for the lower house elections.
The party has not been without problems. In 2006, after CEO of Livedoor Corp. Takafumi Horie was arrested for securities fraud and money laundering, the DPJ attempted to implicate the LDP in the scandal, producing an e-mail showing an LDP member had dealt with an LDP member's son. However, the e-mail turned out to be fake and led to the resignation of then party leader Seiji Maeharaand embarrassment for the party.
Then earlier this year, party leader Ichiro Ozawa stepped down after it emerged that his secretary Takanori Okubo had accepted political donations from a scandal tainted company. This was not the first time Ozawa has been at the center of a controversy within the party. In 2007, Ozawa entered negotiations with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda about creating a grand coalition government including members of both the LDP and DPJ. When he took the proposal to the party, he was slammed for not rejecting it immediately.
Despite troubles, however, the party still looks likely to be in control of Japan after the election.
The DPJ depicts itself as a dynamic and reformist party that will change Japanese politics by creating a more efficient bureaucracy and ending wasteful spending. Recent public opinion polls have shown that the party has a huge chance to take power and try to implement the political change it desires.
However, critics may look to the fact that many of the DPJ's politicians -- including senior figures Hatoyama and Ozawa – were once members of the LDP. There are also questions on whether the party will have the political will or money to fulfil the promises it has made in its manifesto.