Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party for nearly a decade, resigned Thursday to take responsibility for the party’s losses in Sunday’s Upper House election and the Lower House election in December.

The SDP, whose predecessor was once the largest opposition party from 1955 to the early 1990s, won only one seat in the proportional representation segment of the upper chamber, and merely two seats in the general election in December, giving it a total Diet strength of five members.

At an executive meeting at SDP headquarters in Tokyo, Fukushima said she intended to step down as party leader and encountered no objections.

At a news conference after the meeting, Fukushima said she thought about resigning in December, but couldn’t because the party was already preparing for the Upper House election.

“If (we) had won two or more seats in the Upper House election, I may have remained at my post. But given the defeats in both the Upper House and Lower House elections, I have decided to take responsibility for the results,” she said.

Fukushima said she will continue to support the party as a rank-and-file member. The presidency will meanwhile remain vacant until the party selects a new one, she said.

Fukushima’s exit underscores the recent decline of opposition left-wing forces. As the most powerful opposition party for decades, the SDP succeeded in ending the Liberal Democratic Party’s stranglehold on power for the first time in 1993 by allying with other opposition parties. That victory saw then-SDP President Tomiichi Murayama become prime minister in 1994 in an unlikely coalition that included the LDP.

The SDP opposes nuclear power and has championed measures to protect workers’ rights and the pacifist Constitution, and to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan, particularly in Okinawa.

With the end of the Cold War, however, the ideological confrontation between left and right has waned, leaving left-wing forces groping for a cause.

Fukushima, 57, became president in November 2003, succeeding Takako Doi, one of the nation’s most prominent female lawmakers.

A University of Tokyo graduate, Fukushima was a lawyer before winning an Upper House seat in 1998 with the SDP.

She served as state minister in charge of consumer, population and gender issues in the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama when the SDP was part of the coalition formed by the Democratic Party of Japan and now defunct Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party.)

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