Japan’s ruling coalition to fall short of majority

Sunday, July 11, 2010

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and its coalition partner would fail to win in Sunday’s upper house elections the 56 seats it requires to control the chamber, news reports said.

After polling stations closed at 8 p.m. (11 a.m. GMT), some Japanese media exit polls showed the DPJ and its partner, the People’s New Party, would take fewer than 50 seats while the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would gain around 50 seats and Your Party, the most popular small party, would win about 10 seats.

Kan, Japan’s fifth prime minister in three years, told his close aides he would not resign regardless of the outcome, news reports said.

Failure to win the majority would make it more difficult for the government to carry out its policy agenda, though the DPJ has a majority in the more powerful lower house.

A total of 438 candidates are competing in the first national election since the change of government in September. Half of the 242 seats in the upper house are up for grabs.

The DPJ won a landslide victory in last year’s elections to the lower house, ending more than a half-century of almost uninterrupted rule by the LDP.

Many Japanese, angry over decades of economic stagnation and eager for change, voted for the DPJ, which pledged to end wasteful spending and use the money instead to rebuild people’s lives.

The momentum, however, was quickly squandered when Yukio Hatoyama, Kan’s predecessor, broke an election promise on a plan to relocate a key US military base on the southern island of Okinawa.

Hatoyama abruptly resigned in early June and was replaced by Kan, who enjoyed approval ratings of around 60 percent in some opinion polls.

But after he floated the idea of doubling the consumption tax from five to 10 percent in order to rein in mounting public debt, his support rates plunged to below 50 percent. Kan then aggravated the situation by backtracking on the proposal.

A record 12 million people had voted in advance of Sunday’s election, 11.9 percent higher than those who voted in advance of the 2007 election, the government said Sunday.

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