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Japan elections a severe blow to Naoto Kan government

The ruling DPJ lost its majority in the upper house of parliament in Sunday's elections. This new blow came just a couple of weeks after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned for failing to keep his election promises.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan suffered a heavy defeat in the upper house polls

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan suffered a heavy defeat in the upper house polls

Only the opposition had reason to celebrate after the elections to Japan's upper house. After its clear victory in last summer's lower house polls, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won only 44 seats and thus lost its majority in the second chamber. Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan conceded defeat on Sunday night, saying, "I want to apologize to our supporters. We haven't achieved our goals."

Kan, however, does not plan to step down. Instead, he vowed to start again from scratch. After losing 10 seats in the upper house, the Democrats remain the strongest party there, but will have to depend on the support of other parties to gain a majority.

A ballot counting center in Tokyo

A ballot counting center in Tokyo

Tax hike debate seen as reason for defeat

It was not difficult for Kan to find reasons for the defeat. "Apparently people found the way I reflected about the sales tax a bit abrupt," he admitted. "I think there was a lack of a proper explanation from my side for possible tax increases. That was the decisive factor in the defeat."

Naoto Kan became prime minister just a month ago and was initially very popular. But then he suggested increasing sales or consumption tax from 5 to 10 percent to curb Japan's enormous budget deficit. Democratic Party voters wanted none of this. The party, after all, had wrestled power from the Liberal Democrats or LDP on the promise of curbing wastage in government spending.

Comeback for the LDP

Main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Sadakazu Tanigaki

Main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Sadakazu Tanigaki

The LDP, which had ruled Japan for decades, won 51 of the 121 mandates that were up for grabs on Sunday. Its leader Sadakazu Tanigaki was upbeat. "I am calling for the lower house to be dissolved as soon as possible," he said. "The Japanese people must have their say there, too."

But as the DPJ has a comfortable majority in the lower house, it will certainly not risk early elections.

In the upper house, there are elections every three years, but only for half the seats. The second chamber of parliament is less influential politically. However, Sunday's election was viewed as a crucial test of popular support for the government.

Yoshimi Watanabe checks his glasses as he watches the election results

Yoshimi Watanabe checks his glasses as he watches the election results

Searching for new allies

Naoto Kan will now have to look for partners. The Minnanoto or "Your Party", a new party founded last year, might be a possible candidate for a tie-up. It won ten sets on Sunday, a remarkable achievement for a new player in Japanese politics. Its charismatic leader, Yoshimi Watanabe, belongs to a political dynasty and is a former administrative reform minister. "The election results show that our political agenda - small government and corporates as the engine of economic growth - has been judged favorably by the people," he said.

But before any talks about a possible pact, Naoto Kan will have to stabilize his position as the leader of his own party, the DPJ, with all its various wings and factions. If discontent builds up there might even be an open power struggle at the next party conference due in September.

Author: Peter Kujath / tb
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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