Japanese voters have delivered a stinging blow to Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government in Sunday’s upper house election, stripping it of its coalition majority in the house and delivering a plurality of contested seats to the opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
The result is far worse than Friday’s polls had predicted and will pile pressure on Kan, who only took over as prime minister last month. With one seat still to be called at 2.30 am local time according to Asahi TV, the DPJ had won only 44 seats, well below Kan’s election target of at least 54 seats and the 60 needed to give the DPJ an outright majority in the house. The Liberal Democratic Party, which was humiliated in last year’s general election, had won 51 seats, which was well above poll predictions.
'This result falls well short of our target,' Kan said at a press conference before the last results had been announced. He said insufficient explanation of his comments on the sales tax had contributed to the result, but he insisted he would stay on as prime minister with the 'feeling of returning to the starting line.'Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
When Kan replaced Yukio Hatoyama as prime minister last month he enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity for the DPJ. But Kan’s mentioning of raising the sales tax, long seen as pre-election taboo, and his confusing subsequent explanations led to a sudden slide in that popularity. Kan’s decision to focus on the sales tax also surprised sections of his own party, and this result is likely to feed criticism of Kan within the DPJ.
Since the LDP has also called for the sales tax to be raised, the result is probably best interpreted as a negative verdict on the DPJ’s 10 months in power in which it has been seen to flip-flop on policies, backtrack on its manifesto promises and struggle with political funding scandals.
At the press conference, Kan said he interpreted the result not as a rejection of his plan to discuss raising the consumption tax, but a call for more careful and detailed debate of the matter.
The result means the DPJ will now have difficulty passing legislation through the Diet since the relatively strong upper house can effectively reject bills because the DPJ does not have a two-thirds majority in the lower house.
Among the other results, Your Party, which expressed opposition to raising the sales tax, looked set to finish third, having gained 10 seats, just ahead of former LDP coalition partner, New Komeito, which had secured 9 seats. The Japanese Communist Party, which wants to scrap the sales tax, came next with 3 seats.
The three new parties created this spring all failed to make significant inroads, having won only two seats between them. The DPJ’s junior coalition partner, the People’s New Party, had also failed to win any seats with the final results pending.