Breaking a half-century hammerlock of one-party rule in Japan, the opposition Democratic Party won a crushing election victory Sunday with pledges to revive the country's stalled economy and to steer a foreign-policy course less dependent on the United States. But it was pent-up voter anger, not campaign promises, that halted 54 years of near-continuous dominance by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The party had become a profoundly unpopular, but deeply entrenched, governing force that so feared it would be swept from power that it had put off a national election for nearly three years. In a record landslide on a rainy day, voters awarded 308 seats in the powerful 480-seat lower house of parliament to a slightly left-of-center opposition party formed by disaffected LDP veterans. It is led by Yukio Hatoyama, 62, a Stanford-trained engineer who will probably be chosen prime minister in mid-September. "I believe all the people were feeling a great rage against the current government," Hatoyama said. "Everything starts now. We can finally do politics that the people are building their hopes on. My heart is too full for words." The grand strategist behind the win was Ichiro Ozawa, a former LDP power broker. He was the Democratic Party's founding leader until he was forced to resign this year in a campaign finance scandal. Hatoyama thanked Ozawa on Sunday night for engineering the victory and said he wants Ozawa either to serve in his cabinet or to continue as campaign manager for the party. "Frustration against the LDP, which ignored people's lives and favored the bureaucracy, has been felt nationwide," Ozawa said, explaining his party's win. Japan was the postwar wonder that grew into the world's second-largest economy. But it became enfeebled and directionless in the latter years of the LDP's long watch, with stagnant wages and sputtering growth, the worrying rise of the world's oldest population, and a monstrous government debt that will soon double the gross national product. Unemployment set a record last week, and the economy shrank for much of the past year at nearly twice the U.S. rate. For these failings, voters seemed eager to punish the LDP and its unpopular leader, Prime Minister Taro Aso. On Sunday, Aso called his party's defeat "very severe." "I think it is a result of the people's dissatisfaction and distrust towards LDP's leadership," Aso said, adding that he takes responsibility for the loss and will step down as party leader. Judging from polls and voter interviews, the opposition won not because of its attractive policies or charismatic leadership. There is skepticism about how sound those policies are and doubt about how capable the party's unproven leaders will be. Instead, the Democratic Party won by default, as the only available means by which voters could wrest power from the LDP. "It is not really that I am voting for the Democratic Party," said Atsushi Neriugawa, 49, owner of a consulting company, after voting in Tokyo. "I simply want power to change. If the Democratic Party happens to be no good, then I will revert back to LDP." Hatoyama said the party will meet Monday to form a coalition with two smaller parties. The coalition would give the Democratic Party and its allies more than a two-thirds majority in the lower house, enabling it to control legislation in parliament and pass into law any bills rejected by the upper house. The election marked the first time in postwar Japan that an opposition party seized power with a majority in a national election. The Democratic Party's capture of 308 seats was a record in the lower house. Final turnout was projected by the Kyodo news agency to be 69 percent, highest since the current electoral system was introduced in 1996. The upper house is controlled by the Democratic Party, but that could change after an election next year if the new ruling party stumbles. A stumble is probably likely, given the severity of Japan's economic problems. By the go-go standards of Asia, this country's economy is dead in the water -- averaging about 1.09 percent growth since 2000. In the past two decades, Japan has skidded from fourth to 14th among industrialized nations in per-capita gross domestic product. On Monday, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average slid 0.4 percent after climbing as much as 2.2 percent. Growth is desperately needed to pay for pensions, health care and other costly social services for a fast-aging population, 40 percent of which will be 65 or older by 2050. Accelerated growth is also needed to raise enough tax revenue to begin reducing a public debt of $9.14 trillion, the heaviest debt burden in the industrialized world, measured as a percentage of the country's economy. The Democratic Party says increased growth will come through higher domestic consumption. It says it will give parents $276 a month to raise children, and will also eliminate highway tolls, increase support for farmers and raise the minimum wage. "We'll make sure the economy recovers by providing benefits to households," Hatoyama said in a speech last week. But analysts say his party's plans do not add up to a credible strategy for reinventing Japan's export-addicted economy. Voters, too, are skeptical, telling pollsters they do not understand where money will come from for $178 billion in new spending. The party is promising not to raise the public debt or increase consumption taxes for the foreseeable future. "The Democrat Party actually has no economic policy," said Minoru Morita, a political analyst. "They have no systemic proposals, no New Deal. Without a plan, they cannot overcome the crisis left to them by the LDP. If they drive the economy recklessly, then they could lose big-time in the upper house election next year." The new government will probably be formed by mid-September, after a meeting of parliament that will pick Hatoyama as prime minister. One of his party's first priorities is to shake up the elite bureaucracy that has long dominated the government, often molding policy to fit the needs of the country's largest companies. Hatoyama has said he will dispatch 100 members of parliament to seize decision-making authority in the bureaucracy and bend it so that it serves the needs of citizens. The Democratic Party has also pushed for greater independence for Japan from the United States, which has about 50,000 military personnel stationed here and is treaty-bound to defend the country from attack. "Until now, Japan has acted to suit U.S. convenience," Hatoyama said in a TV appearance last week. "But rather than doing so, Japan-U.S. relations should be on an equal footing so that our side can strongly assert Japan's will." Japan helps pay for the cost of stationing U.S. forces on its territory, a policy the Democratic Party has questioned. It says it wants to rethink the entire agreement that keeps U.S. soldiers here. Hatoyama has spoken of adjusting the focus of Japan's foreign policy to create stronger trade and diplomatic ties with China, South Korea and other countries. But in recent weeks he and other party leaders have said they will not seek major changes in foreign policy. Hatoyama said the U.S.-Japan alliance would "continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy." (Washington Post)