Elec­tion losses are lat­est blow to Ja­pan’s rul­ing Democrats

Austin American-Statesman - - MONDAY BRIEFING - By Martin Fack­ler

TOKYO — Ja­pan’s gov­ern­ing Demo­cratic Party suf­fered a sting­ing set­back in midterm elec­tions Sun­day that showed grow­ing voter dis­ap­point­ment with the party’s ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to de­liver on cam­paign prom­ises.

The elec­tion, for seats in the Up­per House, was widely seen as a ref­er­en­dum on the nine-month-old lead­er­ship of the Democrats, who won a his­toric vic­tory last year over the long-gov­ern­ing Lib­eral Democrats but then got mired in money scan­dals and a dis­pute over an Amer­i­can air­base. With most dis­tricts re­port­ing fi­nal re­sults, the Democrats trailed the op­po­si­tion Lib­eral Democrats, fail­ing to win enough of the 121 con­tested seats to gain a con­trol­ling ma­jor­ity in the cham­ber.

The elec­tion was an­other big blow to the party af­ter the sud­den res­ig­na­tion last month of Prime Min­is­ter Yukio Ha­toyama, who faced deep­en­ing crit­i­cism over his in­de­ci­sive lead­er­ship.

The Democrats are not in dan­ger of los­ing con­trol of the govern­ment be­cause they have a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity in the more pow­er­ful Lower House. But their fail­ure to con­trol the Up­per House could re­sult in a split par­lia­ment, mak­ing the Democrats’ prom­ises to strengthen so­cial wel­fare and as­sert more con­trol over the nation’s pow­er­ful bu­reau­cracy far more dif­fi­cult to achieve.

An­a­lysts said the vote showed grow­ing doubts about the party’s abil­ity to end the pro­longed eco­nomic stag­na­tion in Ja­pan, once the pow­er­house of Asia. They cred­ited the Lib­eral Democrats’ ap­par­ently strong show­ing af­ter months of dis­ar­ray to its still for­mi­da­ble lo­cal vote-gath­er­ing abil­ity, though the gains also re­flected a protest vote against the Democrats.

Opin­ion polls had pre­dicted a tough race for the Democrats, who suf­fered as Ha­toyama’s pop­u­lar­ity plum­meted. The party then voted in a new prime min­is­ter, Naoto Kan; his ap­proval rat­ings also fell af­ter he pro­posed an in­crease of the na­tional con­sump­tion tax only to waf­fle about it later.

On Sun­day, Kan took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the elec­tion set­back but said he would stay on as prime min­is­ter.

“My in­suf­fi­cient ex­pla­na­tion was a big rea­son in this big elec­tion de­feat,” Kan said at a news con­fer­ence.

The Democrats ap­peared to have won 44 of the 121 con­tested seats, far be­low their pre­vi­ous to­tal of 54 and much less than the 60 seats needed to claim a ma­jor­ity in the Up­per House, ac­cord­ing to NHK, Ja­pan’s na­tional broad­caster. NHK used vote tal­lies and its own pro­jec­tions of con­tested races. The Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party ap­peared to have se­cured 51 seats, with the rest go­ing to smaller par­ties.

Greg Baker

Yukio Edano, a Demo­cratic Party of Ja­pan of­fi­cial, passes a poster of Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Naoto Kan. The party faced a heavy de­feat in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

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