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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.

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.

Abe is considering reshuffling the Cabinet and the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party possibly in late August, his aides said early Monday.

A board meeting of the LDP decided Monday to allow Abe to remain as president of the ruling party despite its major setback in the election.

It also said it will talk with the opposition camp about convening an extraordinary Diet session for four days from Aug. 7 in order to swear in the new Upper House members.

The DPJ had captured 60 seats, far better than the 37 gained by the LDP.

New Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition ally, secured nine seats, while the Japanese Communist Party won three and the Social Democratic Party captured two.

The combined seats won by the LDP and New Komeito fell 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 — fell short of winning 40 — even worse than the 44 mark that in 1998 forced Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to step down.

The DPJ meanwhile sharply boosted its strength from the 32 contested seats it had going into the election.

In the closely watched races in the 29 single-seat prefectural districts — which were believed to hold the key to the overall election result — the LDP won only six seats, compared with 17 for the DPJ. Five other seats in these districts went to independents aligned with the opposition camp, while the last one went to the small opposition force Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party).

New Komeito chief Akihiro Ota indicated his party will continue to support Abe.

“We will of course say whatever needs to be said, but would like to support” Abe as prime minister, Ota said in a TV interview Sunday night.

Ota also indicated early Monday that he would stay on as head of the party and keep his right-hand man, Secretary General Kazuo Kitagawa, in the post, despite the party’s setback in Sunday’s poll.

“I would like to fulfill my responsibility by doing my best in expanding the presence of the party and rebuilding it,” Ota said.

New Komeito had 12 of seats out of the 121 up for grabs in the election, but only won nine.

Still, pressure for Abe to take responsibility for the LDP’s defeat was brewing even within his party.

“I cannot understand how (Abe) can express his intention to remain in office even before the final results are known. He does not seem to understand public common sense,” said Yoichi Masuzoe, who was re-elected on the party’s proportional representation ticket. The LDP’s crushing defeat reflects “voters’ distrust toward the structural problems of the entire Cabinet,” he said.

LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa meanwhile tendered his resignation to Abe to take responsibility for the party’s defeat.

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.

Nonetheless, the devastating defeat in the Upper House could seal the fate of Abe’s 10-month-old Cabinet, according to analysts and even some lawmakers from the ruling bloc.

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.

Turnout at 58.64%

Kyodo News The final voter turnout in Sunday’s House of Councilors election was 58.64 percent for the prefectural constituency section, up 2.07 percentage points from the previous election in July 2004, and 58.63 percent for the nationwide proportional representation segment, up 2.09 points, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry announced Monday.

In the constituency section, turnout for men was 58.87 percent, up 2.26 points, while that for women rose 1.88 point to 58.42 percent.

This was the sixth consecutive Upper House election that has seen the turnout rate stay below 60 percent, although they represented increases for the second election in a row. The Upper House holds an election every three years for half its seats.

Voter turnout has shown cyclical drops every 12 years when the Upper House election in summer is preceded in the spring by rounds of unified local assembly, gubernatorial and mayoral elections, like this year.

This phenomenon is often attributed to voters reluctant to go through two major elections.

But that pattern — in the year of the boar in the Chinese zodiac calendar — didn’t occur this time.

Absentee ballots cast before the voting day increased around 50 percent from the previous election to around 10.8 million. This factor also helped boost overall turnout in the end.

The number of eligible voters on the day of the election was estimated to be 103,710,035.

Of that number, 102,551 were voters residing overseas. Overseas voters were allowed to cast their ballots for the prefectural constituency section for the first time, in addition to the proportional representation segment they had previously been allowed to vote for.

Their turnout was 23.01 percent for the constituency section and 23.57 percent for the proportional representation block, up 1.95 percentage points from the previous election.

Women set record

Kyodo News A record-high 26 women won House of Councilors seats in Sunday’s election, up from the previous contest, in 2004, which saw 15 women elected as legislators.

In Sunday’s poll, 14 belong to the Democratic Party of Japan and eight of the victors are Liberal Democratic Party members. One each is from New Komeito, the Japanese Communist Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party). One is an independent.

The previous record high was 22 in the July 1989 election, in which the LDP suffered a devastating setback while the Japan Socialist Party — now called the Social Democratic Party — scored a major victory. The Socialists were then led by Chairwoman Takako Doi.

This story was updated at 3:50 p.m., July 30, 2007.