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The Liberal Democratic Party suffered a stunning defeat in Sunday’s Upper House election as voters issued an apparent no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s economic policies.

The LDP won 45 seats on Sunday, far below the 60 the party had up for grabs. Combined with its 58 uncontested seats, the LDP’s total strength in the 252-seat chamber now stands at 103, compared with 118 before the election.

This means the party is 22 seats short of a simple majority, even if Upper House President Juro Saito, a Liberal Democrat who became an independent upon taking his post, returns to the party. Only with the help of the 22-strong Komei would the LDP be able to recover a majority in the upper chamber.

It was the LDP’s second-worst Upper House election showing in history. The party obtained only 14 seats — the lowest ever — under the proportional representation system.

In the races at prefecture-based constituencies, the LDP failed to win any seats in such key districts as Tokyo, Kanagawa, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo. Among the LDP’s unsuccessful candidates was Hiroshi Oki, chief of the Environment Agency, who ran for re-election in Aichi Prefecture.

Meanwhile, the largest opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan, led by popular lawmaker Naoto Kan, obtained 27 seats, well above the 18 it had up for grabs. It obtained 12 seats from proportional representation votes.

It was the first major nationwide election after the DPJ expanded in April as a result of its merger with three opposition parties. The party’s impressive election gains are expected to boost its standing as a leader of the opposition camp.

The Japanese Communist Party won 15 seats, more than double the six seats it had up for grabs. It is now the third-largest force in the Upper House. JCP leaders said their party is ready to discuss closer cooperation with other opposition parties — including conservative forces such as Ichiro Ozawa’s Liberal Party — to oust the LDP from power by calling for an early dissolution of the Lower House.

The DPJ and JCP were the top favorites of swing voters who do not support any particular party. According to a Kyodo News exit poll, only 10.7 percent of such voters supported the LDP under the proportional representation system, while 29.3 percent voted for the DPJ and 20.0 percent for the JCP.

Voter turnout, including absentee votes cast by Saturday, reached 58.8 percent, putting an end to a decline seen since the 1989 election, according to the Home Affairs Ministry. The figure was more than 13 percent higher than in the previous election in July 1995, when turnout hit a historic low of 44.52 percent.

To halt the slide in voter turnout, the Public Offices Election Law was revised to keep polling stations open until 8 p.m., two hours longer than in prior elections. Requirements for absentee voting were also eased, and the number of people who cast absentee votes by Saturday was estimated to have reached a record 4.8 million.

Komei, which had been the third-largest force in the Upper House, won nine seats, failing to secure its 11 contested seats. The party is supported by Soka Gakkai, the nation’s largest lay Buddhist organization.

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