Japan's Diet divided again after ruling camp loses majority of upper house

08:28, July 12, 2010      

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Japan's Diet was divided again after the ruling coalition, headed by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) , suffered a major defeat and lost the majority of seats in the upper house in Sunday's election.

A total of 437 candidates are contesting for the 121 seats in this year's election. The DPJ garnered 44, far less than 54 seats it had targeted, while the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the main opposition, secured 51. The DPJ's junior coalition partner People's New Party gained no seat in the election.

The DPJ will remain in power because the party is controlling the more powerful lower house, or the House of Representatives. However, the result of the election is going to have a great impact on whether the ruling coalition can pass bills smoothly.

The DPJ swept to power after last September's lower house election, overthrowing the LDP, which had ruled Japan almost uninterruptedly for about half a century. The DPJ enjoyed a short period of controlling both houses of the parliament.

The upper house election is the first national poll since the DPJ rose to power. The ruling coalition needs to win at least 56 seats to retain a majority in the upper house.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is also president of the DPJ, said his party expected support from other parties on key issues at a press conference in the wake of the upper house election.

"We will stand on a new startline and establish a responsible government," Kan said.

Kan ruled out the possibility of an immediate forming of grand coalition with the main opposition LDP.

He said he accepted the results of the election and the opinions aired by voters. Kan attributed the election setback to his remarks on possible consumption tax hike. But, he said he does not believe a debate on the consumption tax was completely rejected by voters and he will continue to seek cross-party debate on tax reform.

Indeed, on the streets of Tokyo some voters had almost sympathetic words for the embattled prime minister.

Hideaki Ito, 35, said, "I am not 100 percent satisfied with the DPJ government, but as for Naoto Kan, I would like to trust him and give him some more time."

Kan is the fifth prime minister since 2006. He is also Japan's first leader in 14 years not born into a blue-blood political family.

Kan succeeded Yukio Hatoyama, who stepped down in June due to the improper settlement of a U.S. base issue in the southern Okinawa Prefecture, and political fund issues.

The leaders of two potential partners, Your Party and the New Komeito, rejected the idea of joining the government anyway, and LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki said his party was willing to talk about policies but ruled out any "grand coalition".

Your Party is rapidly emerging as the third choice political group in Japan. They snapped up ten seats to add to the one they already hold, an astonishing achievement for a party that wasn't even formed until last August.

During the campaign which started in late June, the ruling and opposition parties had engaged in hot debates over issues including a possible consumption tax hike and economic growth strategies. The LDP saw eye to eye with the DPJ in raising the consumption tax to 10 percent from the current rate of 5 percent.

The upper house has 242 seats, of which 96 are elected by proportional representation from a national constituency and 146 are elected from Japan's 47 prefectures. Councilors' term of office is six years.

The DPJ, which holds 62 seats in the upper chamber that were not contested, remains the biggest party in the upper house.

The upper house holds elections every three years for, alternately, only half of the total 242 seats, with the other half remain uncontested until the next election. The upper house is not subject to dissolution, meaning that elected officials are basically guaranteed a full term of six years.

Source: Xinhua


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