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Japanese in Cambodia Facing New Government

Japanese diplomats, businessmen and employees congratulated the win of Japan’s opposition in recent elections, which broke half a century of ruling party rule, but some were wary the new party would make many changes.

The Democratic Party of Japan defeated the Liberal Democratic Party in Aug. 30 polls with a landslide win that made it the largest party in the lower house of parliament, with 308 of 480 seats.

Yano Tusi, owner of Ko Ko Ro restaurant in Phnom Penh, laughed happily when he was asked about his new government.

“Before, [the ruling party] worked for the rich people,” he said. “Rich people became richer, poor people became poorer. But now maybe [the opposition] will work for the poor.”

Japan’s next prime minister will be the DPJ’s president, Yuko Hatoyama, who is expected to be formally voted in on Sept. 16 and to name his cabinet in the days that follow.

Hatoyama had a chance to overthrown his strong competitor, the former premier Taro Aso, and the ruling party, because the opposition vowed to recover nearly $98 billion in “wasteful spending” through reductions in civil-servant and personnel costs and the upkeep of government offices over the next four years.

The DPJ also promised free high school education, free highways, a four-year freeze on the consumption tax, which is currently at 5 percent, and the creation of jobs in the private and agricultural sectors.

“I hope it is good,” said Sathol Miura, president of the Japanese Travel Agency APEX, in Phnom Penh. “It will make changes in the economy to create jobs and tourism.”

Japan’s economy has fallen sharply in the last decade, bringing worries that it could lose its place as the second-largest in the world. Many Japanese lost faith in the ruling party after its officials faced internal scandals and failed to expand the job market and national economy.

However, not everyone is convinced the DPJ can turn things around.

“It’s a hard experience to change for the new party,” said Hiroobu Kurata, president of Kurata Pepper. “I can’t say the policy is good. I can only hope that it will be changed, but if they change all the policies, some projects might be broken.”

Yamasaki Yuki, a Japanese-Khmer translator, said she didn’t hold too much hope for the new party, as it contains parts of the old.

“I suspect that it is not so good because the new party and the old one is the same,” she said. “I’m not really satisfied with these two big parties.”

Hatoyoma, 62, finished his PhD in engineering at Stanford University. He was born into a wealthy political family. His grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, was the ruling LDP’s first former Japanese prime minister. He began his political career in 1983 with the ruling party and later lead his own party, the DPJ.

Japan is Cambodia’s biggest donor. According to a report provided by the Japanese Embassy, some 830 Japanese nationals now live in the country. They work in tourism, hotels, restaurants, embassies and NGOs. Some are students.

Prime Minister Hun Sen recently congratulated the success of the DPJ and said he expected bilateral relations between the two countries would strengthen.