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Latest News from 'The Japan Times' :
Monday, July 30, 2007
Ruling coalition suffers huge defeat
DPJ comes out on top as LDP, Komeito lose Upper House control
Compiled from staff, Kyodo reports
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition was thoroughly trounced in Sunday's election, losing its majority in the House of Councilors, preliminary returns and projections based on exit polls showed.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces reporters Sunday night at Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo after confirmation of his party's defeat in the Upper House poll.
The Democratic Party of Japan meanwhile took over as the leading force in the Upper House.
Despite the huge setback for his Liberal Democratic Party, Abe said he plans to stay in power.
"As prime minister, I have promised to carry out reforms . . . and it is my duty (as prime minister) to fulfill that promise," he said in a televised interview at LDP headquarters.
As of 11:30 p.m., the DPJ had captured 55 seats, far above the 30 gained by the LDP, with results for 19 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the election still undecided, according to Kyodo News. New Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition ally, secured seven seats.
Projections by Kyodo and key TV stations earlier showed that the combined seats won by the LDP and New Komeito would fall far short of the 64 they needed to keep control of the Upper House.
The LDP, which had 64 contested seats going into the election — appeared certain to fall short of the 44 mark — a dismal showing that in 1998 forced Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to step down.
The election, in which half of the 242 Upper House seats were up for grabs, was the first nationwide campaign since Abe took office in September.
Half of the seats in the Upper House come up for election every three years. A total of 377 candidates were vying for the 121 seats at stake this time round, 73 in single- or multiseat prefectural districts and the remaining 48 in the national proportional representation block.
The preliminary results confirmed media forecasts of a serious setback for the LDP, with Abe's popularity eroding amid growing frustration over the pension system debacle, political money scandals and gaffes by Cabinet members.
Upper House elections have only a limited impact on the administration's power. The House of Representatives, where the LDP-led coalition maintains a comfortable majority, has stronger legislative power and the final say on the budget and electing prime ministers.
Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, speaks at a news conference at party headquarters in Tokyo on Sunday night. KYODO PHOTO
Nonetheless, a devastating defeat in the Upper House race could seal the fate of Abe's 10-month-old Cabinet, according to analysts and even some lawmakers from the ruling coalition.
In 1998, Hashimoto stepped down after the LDP won 44 seats in the Upper House election, while Prime Minister Sousuke Uno resigned in 1989 when the LDP won only 36.
Yoshio Hachiro, head of the DPJ's campaign headquarters, said Sunday's results represent a vote of no confidence against the Abe administration.
"It is now the proper course in politics (for Abe) to seek voters' mandate in the House of Representatives," Hachiro said in a televised interview at DPJ headquarters, urging the prime minister to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap general election.
Abe meanwhile said he has no immediate plans to dissolve the Lower House.
Voter turnout was estimated at 57.71 percent, about 1 point higher than in the previous Upper House election, in July 2004, Kyodo News reported. Roughly 100 million people were eligible to vote.
Earlier, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said 10.8 million absentee ballots had been cast as of Saturday, or 10.33 percent of the registered voters. Both the total number and the ratio were record highs for a Diet election.
The number of absentee ballots marked a 50 percent increase over the 2004 Upper House election, and was also substantially above the roughly 8.96 million cast in the last House of Representatives election in 2005.
With the ruling bloc poised to lose its Upper House majority for the first time since 1998, attention was expected to focus on how Abe contains the damage — or whether he will even stay in power.
Although he reiterated Sunday he intends to remain as prime minister, the massive setback is likely to erode his clout within the LDP and trigger calls for him to step down.
In addition, the DPJ and other opposition forces — with their newly gained control of the Upper House — are expected to step up their offensive and could stall government-proposed legislation in the chamber