Election losses are latest blow to Japan’s ruling Democrats
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.
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.