The Democratic Party of Japan won the Lower House election by a landslide Sunday, grabbing more than 300 seats in the 480-seat chamber.
The victory by the main opposition party will end more than half a century of almost uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. It will also usher in DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, 62, as the new prime minister by mid-September.
The DPJ-led opposition camp secured 340 seats against just 140 for the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc. In the opposition camp, the DPJ alone had 308.
Flush with victory, DPJ executives started full-fledged preparations for launching a new administration in the evening, party sources said, adding that talks were also planned with its two allies — the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) — on forming a coalition government.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Taro Aso said he will step down as LDP president to “take responsibility” for his party’s defeat. An election to pick his successor as LDP chief will be held soon, he said.
LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda also said on NHK the party’s top three executives have all told Aso they plan to resign.
“We’d like to straightly face the severe results. We will search our souls and start preparing for the next election,” Hosoda said, adding that the LDP will overhaul its policies to gain more support.
The LDP also lost some big names in single-seat races, including former Foreign Ministers Nobutaka Machimura and Taro Nakayama, as well as Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano and former Finance chief Shoichi Nakagawa.
However, Machimura and Yosano regained their seats in proportional representation.
New Komeito suffered even worse, with party chief Akihiro Ota and heavyweights Kazuo Kitagawa and Tetsuzo Fuyushiba all defeated in their single-seat districts. They didn’t “insure” themselves by putting their names on the party’s list of proportional-representation candidates.
DPJ deputy chief Ichiro Ozawa declined comment before the poll results were complete but said “there is nothing (for voters) to worry” about concerning an impending change in government.
“We’d like to steadily implement what we have promised to the nation,” Ozawa told NHK.
Pre-election media polls showed the DPJ leading the LDP thanks to strong populist tail winds propelled in part by frustration with years of stagnation and mismanagement under the LDP.
As many as 1,374 candidates, including a record 229 women, competed for seats in the 480-member chamber — 300 in single-seat districts and 180 in the 11 proportional representation blocks nationwide.
Due to strong voter interest, voter turnout was estimated to have reached 69.29 percent, exceeding the 67.51 percent in the previous general election in 2005.
A record 13.98 million people, or 13.4 percent of all eligible voters, cast early ballots.
Most of the nearly 51,000 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.
The DPJ, which had just 115 seats before the election, secured 308.
The LDP, in contrast, captured as few as 119, a shocking decline from its 300 seats before the race. New Komeito won 21 seats, far short of the 31 seats it had before the election.
The LDP’s fall from power was only its second since it was founded in 1955. It was out of power for about 11 months between 1993 and 1994.
After campaigning officially began Aug. 18, Aso made clear his priority was to stimulate the economy, saying the economy is only halfway through its recovery.
He argued against giving a popular mandate to the DPJ on the grounds that the opposition party tends to waver on national security matters, and that his LDP is the only party responsible enough to govern.
The DPJ’s Hatoyama promised to up support to households, saying a DPJ-led government will “cut waste created in bureaucrat-reliant politics and reorganize the budget in such a way as to spend money on what’s really important.”
The change in the Lower House will clear the legislative deadlock in the Diet, which has plagued the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc for the past two years, when the less-powerful Upper House came under control of the opposition.
Campaigning effectively began July 21, when Aso, 68, dissolved the Lower House. Since then, parties had pitched their policies to voters based on their campaign platforms.
In its platform, the DPJ pledges to cut wasteful spending, offer cash to households and keep the 5 percent consumption tax intact for the next four years, the duration of the term for new Lower House lawmakers.
But its big-budget policies, like the monthly child allowance to families, have been criticized as lacking specifics about sources of funding.
Aso was widely expected to call the poll soon after taking office last September after two of his immediate predecessors quit after about a year in office each. But as the recession deepened, he vowed to focus on reviving the economy and delayed dissolving the lower chamber.
In the general election of September 2005, the LDP captured a whopping 296 seats as then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi painted the race as a contest between those for his postal system privatization initiative and those against it.