The voters have spoken, and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been ousted in favor of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). But now a relatively young political organization has the task of attempting to govern a country crippled by an economic crisis and the grayest population on the planet.
Final count from TV Asahi showed the DPJ won 308 seats out of the total of 480, compared with the LDP's 119.
In its manifesto, DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama says he wishes to build "a society where each and every person's life matters, a society in which people view others' happiness as their own." This task will be easier said than done, though for the first time, Japan seems to be on the road to a two-party system.
While the LDP is projected to suffer devastating losses, and is likely to win around 100 seats, it will likely remain the opposition, and will have an opportunity to make up ground next summer.
Two party system?
"It's far too soon to write the obituary for the LDP," says Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo. "I think that voters are fickle and their party loyalty is very fluid at the moment. The biggest reason not to assume that suddenly the DPJ is going to become the dominant party is that if you look at the polls, clearly people are voting for change for leader they don't like that much."
During the election campaign, while Aso and the LDP experienced huge disapproval ratings, few were willing to say that they had faith that the DPJ would be able to deliver on the promises it made in its manifesto. A lot of voters interviewed by Xinhua on Sunday also expressed hesitation. While most were almost certain they would wake up on Monday to a country run by the DPJ, they were also hesitant to express any confidence in Hatoyama and his party.
Proving that the DPJ can make good on at least some of its promises will be the main goal for the DPJ in its first months in power. "Given that a lot of people have been disappointed by the LDP government of the past several years, it would be nice to see some of the DPJ campaign promises come true, sooner rather than later," says Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University.
Nakano, however, does see serious risks for the DPJ over the next year. "The worst case scenario is for the DPJ to start to fall apart, even after they come to power, and that's not entirely impossible given that there is an upper house election coming next year, which will be very important.
"It is conceivable that some of the groups within the DPJ, based on party differences, will want to pull the party this way rather than that way. But a party political realignment would not be a good idea as it would be tantamount to betraying the voters."
The puppet master?
Much has been made of the role that Ozawa will play once the DPJ settles into its new role as the governing party. As the leader of the Isshin-kai, the largest faction of politicians within the DPJ, Ozawa, so the argument goes, may be able to wield more influence than Hatoyama. Critics have also pointed to Ozawa's skill for making backroom deals, seen in 2007 when he discussed a deal with then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to create a grand coalition including both the DPJ and LDP, as further evidence that Ozawa may possess more power than he should.
Ozawa dismissed these claims and called the ideas "made up by the media" at a news conference on Sunday.
Nakano, however, disagrees with the view that Ozawa will hold all the cards, though he does believe he will wield some power. "Given that Ozawa is engineering the campaign, and has been for a couple of years now, he is likely to come out of a good electoral victory powerful," he says.
"This is not to say that Ozawa is the puppet master and Hatoyama the puppet, given that the DPJ has been run by a collective leadership rather than a one man show already for some time, and the division of labor is such that already Ozawa has been entrusted to the electoral campaign and the running of the party, at least for now."
Observers and voters alike, however, will be watching Ozawa's moves very closely over the coming months.
Along with Ozawa, senior positions are also expected to go to Naoto Kan and Katsuya Okada, other senior figures who have been instrumental in steering the party to power over the last few years.