Japan's Abe Won't Quit Despite Blow at Polls

Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party suffers a severe defeat in parliamentary elections, losing control of the upper house of parliament. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he will stay in office.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Japan's prime minister says he's going to stay in office, despite yesterdays huge election defeat for his party. The loss in control of the upper house of parliament is a crushing result for Shinzo Abe and for the party that's dominated Japanese politics for the past half century.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports.

Unidentified Woman: (Japanese spoken)

LOUISA LIM: For the moment the polls closed, the predictions were bad for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the final results were humiliating. His Liberal Democratic Party and its partner needed 64 seats to keep their majority in the upper half of parliament. They got just 37.

Looking tired, Shinzo Abe last night took responsibility for the thumping that said he'd stay on.

Prime Minister SHINZO ABE (Japan): (Japanese spoken)

LIM: To pursue reforms, to build a new country, he said, I have to fulfill my duties as prime minister from now on, that this protest vote is a sign the electorate is angry. Abe's short 10 months in office have been plagued by a series of scandals over his ministers and the lost of 50 million pension records - a serious blunder in this rapidly aging country.

Professor PHIL DEANS (Politics and East Asian Studies, Temple University, Tokyo, Japan): It was a terrible defeat for Abe. A real slap in the face.

LIM: Phil Deans from Temple University in Tokyo, says Abe's nationalist mission to make Japan more assertive was out of touch with the electorate.

Prof. DEANS: His nationalist agenda just doesn't have much appeal. Most Japanese people really don't care that much about revising the constitution, about changing Japan's international role.

Unidentified Group: (Japanese spoken)

LIM: Celebrations by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ, now the largest party in the upper house for the first time in half a century. Democratic politician Yukio Hatoyama spells out the vote's significance.

Mr. Yukio Hatoyama (Parliament member, Japan): (Japanese spoken)

LIM: Every national election is a credibility test for the government, he said. It should understand the answer was no. The Democratic Party Of Japan now controls the legislative agenda and can block government bills, ushering in a period of political gridlock.

According to Koichi Nakano from Sophia University, the opposition control of the upper house could allow more frictions over emerge Japan's alliance with the U.S., which had been especially close under Abe and his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

Professor KOICHI NAKANO (Political Science, Sophia University): The Abe government following closely the line adopted by Mr. Koizumi have been a very staunch ally of the United States. And that might be somewhat modified the support of the United States in Iraq, for example, might got through some change.

LIM: And Phil Dean says tensions could cover matters ranging from the economy to defense cooperation to international affairs.

Prof. DEANS: The DPJ has taken a position of offering more protection to Japanese consumers and producers, so it will be even more difficult to reform the Japanese market, open it up to competition, which is a key issue for the U.S. On defense policy, we'll see a scaling back of Japan's support for Washington's international agenda.

LIM: And another symbolic vote is looming. As early as today, the U.S. Congress could vote on whether to demand an official Japanese apology for forcing women to serve as sex slaves in World War II. This vote overseas is likely to be yet another embarrassment for the Japanese prime minister in a week where he's seen so many of his dreams shattered at home.

Luisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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Election Defeat Derails Japan's Ruling Party Agenda

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question during a news conference on Sunday. i i

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question during a news conference following his party's defeat on Sunday. Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question during a news conference on Sunday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question during a news conference following his party's defeat on Sunday.

Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday vowed to stay in office, despite a humiliating election that saw his Liberal Democratic Party suffer its worst defeat in a half-century and could have implications for relations with the U.S.

In a vote for half of the seats in the upper house of parliament, the electorate voiced its outrage over a series of political scandals and the loss of millions of pension records - a serious blunder in this rapidly-ageing country - stripping the LDP of its majority in the 242-seat body.

"To pursue reforms, to build a new country, I have to fulfill my duties as prime minister from now on," Abe said, acknowledging, nonetheless, that a Cabinet reshuffle was in order.

But the vote is a sign the electorate is angry. It was a terrible defeat for the prime minister a mere 10 months after he took office, succeeding the charismatic and popular Junichiro Koizumi.

The LDP remains in control of the lower house and thus still controls the government, but Sunday's defeat was a clear sign of Abe's tumbling fortunes and a dramatic reversal of the stellar support he enjoyed when he took office less than a year ago.

By Monday morning, newspaper editorials were urging Abe to resign.

"Voters gave a clear failing mark," the Asahi newspaper said. "The prime minister should face the results seriously and step down."

Phil Deans, a professor of Politics and East Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, said Abe's mission to make Japan more assertive on the world stage is out of touch with the electorate.

"His nationalist agenda just doesn't have that much appeal. Most Japanese people don't care that much about revising the constitution and changing Japan's international role," Deans said.

The Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ, now the largest party in the upper house for the first time in half a century, celebrated its victory. Democratic politician Yukio Hatoyama spelled out the vote's significance.

"Every national election is a credibility test for the government," he said. The LDP "should understand the answer was 'no.'"

The DPJ now controls the legislative agenda and can block government bills, ushering in a period of political gridlock. According to Koichi Nakano, an associate professor of political science from Sophia University, the opposition control of the upper house could cause more friction over Japan's alliance with the U.S., which had been especially close under Abe and Koizumi.

"The Abe government followed clearly the line adopted by Koizumi who was a very staunch ally of the U.S. This is likely to be somewhat modified by the opposition party, with critics of Japanese policy in Iraq likely to surface," he said.

Deans said tension could ensue over matters from the economy to defense cooperation and international affairs.

"The DPJ has taken a position of offering more protection to Japanese consumers and producers, so it will be even more difficult to reform the Japanese market, and open it up to competition, which is a key issue for the U.S.," he said.

"On defense policy, we'll see a scaling back of Japan's support for Washington's international agenda," Deans added.

And another symbolic vote is looming - one that Tokyo's ambassador to Washington has warned could undermine bilateral ties.

As early as Monday, the U.S. Congress could vote on whether to demand an official Japanese apology for forcing women to serve as sex slaves in World War II.

Earlier this year, Shinzo Abe's denial of government coercion sparked uproar and built support for the resolution; the vote is likely to be yet another embarrassment for the Abe.

With additional reporting from The Associated Press

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