Hours after the Liberal Democratic Party fell shy of its 51-seat target in Sunday’s House of Councilors election, leaders of the ruling bloc confirmed Monday they would stay the course under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Koizumi’s LDP won 49 Upper House seats in Sunday’s poll. The LDP’s junior coalition partner, New Komeito, however, came away from the election with 11 seats, one more than it had up for grabs. The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, secured 50 seats.

The top leaders of the coalition agreed to keep Koizumi as their leader apparently due to a lack of a suitable replacement.

“We will continue backing the Koizumi Cabinet,” New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki said after emerging from an afternoon meeting with Koizumi at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in Tokyo.

The LDP, the main force of the two-party coalition, held an executive meeting Monday morning. Participants said the question of Koizumi’s responsibility for the electoral outcome was not raised at the meeting.

“There will be no problems in (Koizumi) leading the government because (the combined forces of) the ruling parties have maintained a majority” in the upper chamber, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a regular news conference.

Sunday’s election results are no doubt a setback for Koizumi; the LDP had wanted to win 56 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the triennial election, but set its actual target at 51.

Koizumi may have to defer more to New Komeito and LDP members in carrying out his reform agenda and when he reshuffles his Cabinet, scheduled for September.

“I’d like to carefully examine the situation so I can establish a cooperative relationship between the LDP and New Komeito” when reshuffling the Cabinet, Koizumi told a news conference Monday afternoon.

LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe is expected to step down in September, when a major reshuffle of party posts is also scheduled before the executives’ one-year terms expire.

During a separate news conference, Abe said he told Koizumi that he wanted to “take responsibility” for the election results. But, he said, Koizumi asked him to stay on as the LDP’s No. 2 man, at least until September.

As secretary general, Abe was in a position to direct the LDP’s election campaign and had indicated he would resign his post if the party failed to win 51 seats.

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