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European Press Review: A New Era in Japanese Politics

Op-ed writers in Europe devoted their comments to Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Japan. The rise of a challenger to the victorious ruling party indicated the beginning of a new era in Japanese politics, they wrote.

For the first time ever, Japan effectively has a two-party system, Der Standard in Vienna wrote. It said the Democratic Party of former civil rights activist Naoto Kan won so many votes because it promised what the majority of Japanese appear to want: a restructuring of the state’s political apparatus, and a government both efficient and economical. But the DPJ didn’t manage to dislodge the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for half a century. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sees the wave of support for the opposition as confirmation of his own reform policy -- that is, the one he would pursue, if only his party would let him, the Austrian paper said.

Koizumi needs to realize that he’s ruling a two-speed Japan, wrote the French daily Le Monde. He likes to show off with an economic recovery which is in fact fragile and to which his policies have contributed little. The crises of the 1990s have created deep rifts, the paper said: lay-offs, insecurity and a new social inequality. Koizumi’s much-vaunted reforms will do nothing whatsoever to help, Le Monde wrote.

The Financial Times of London remarked that the Japanese prime minister’s big problem is that his party has two contradictory constituencies -- the protected farmers and business groups, on the one hand, and modern urban voters, on the other. But it also wrote that the success of the opposition DPJ puts it in a position of great responsibility. This party really expects to take power, and it must therefore prove that it’s offering a genuine alternative to the tired policies of the traditional LDP, the Financial Times wrote.

The Independent, also from Britain, commented that the results -- more of the same, but with a strengthened opposition -- could prove to have been the best possible outcome. "Japan is, after all, a country where the virtue of stability has long hovered perilously close to becoming the vice of stagnation," it wrote. "And whatever else the results show, it’s that there is a consensus in favor of reform."

The November 11 is Armistice Day, the day on which many countries commemorate the end of World War I in 1918. In their commentaries, two French papers relate the anniversary to the ongoing war in Iraq. The Americans, currently bogged down in Iraq, can learn a decisive lesson from the World War I, Le Figaro in Paris wrote. Its outbreak in 1914 showed that while compromise can be controlled, escalation cannot.

In Strasbourg, Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace pointed out that most recent conflicts are not like the Iraq war. They’re civil wars and conflicts between those who live alongside each other, as in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and the Middle East. The paper said modern Europe’s greatest achievement since the World Wars was overcoming such hostilities among neighbors.