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Japanese PM Suffers Major Setback
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got a jolt yesterday as his conservative ruling camp suffered a devastating, but expected, defeat in upper house elections.

By 5:00 AM (20:00 GMT) Monday, the opposition parties and independents, led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), have secured a total of 75 seats on Sunday's election in which 121 seats were up for grabs. They will hold at least 137 seats in the 242-seats upper chamber, vote counting results showed. There is still a seat to be decided as the vote counting continues.

The ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito party won 37 and 8 seats respectively by the same time. The coalition will hold 105 seats at the most in the upper house, compared with 133 before the election.

But the 52-year-old conservative said he intended to stay in his post. "I am determined to carry out my promises although the situation is severe," Abe said, after acknowledging he was responsible for the drubbing.

"We need to restore the people's trust in the country and the government," a weary Abe told reporters.

Shortly after midnight, LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa tendered his resignation to Abe, to take responsibility for the unfavorable election results, Kyodo News said.

Abe is considering reshuffling the Cabinet and the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party possibly in late August, Kyodo News quoted his aides as saying early Monday.

The DPJ, winning at least 60 seats in Sunday's election, will be the chamber's largest bloc. It would be the first time that a party other than the LDP has seized the most seats in the chamber since the LDP was established in 1955. The president of the upper house will therefore be elected from the major opposition DPJ.

The Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party, People's New Party and New Party Nippon won 3, 2, 2 and 1 seats respectively. The independents grabbed 7 seats.

Voters angry after a string of government scandals and gaffes and the bungling of pension records stripped Abe's coalition of its upper house majority in his first big electoral test since taking office 10 months ago.

Abe's coalition will not be ousted from government by the loss, though, because it has a huge majority in the more powerful lower chamber, which elects the prime minister.

But with the DPJ on track to become the biggest party in the chamber, laws will be hard to enact, threatening policy deadlock.

"We need to discuss issues closely with the DPJ in the upper house and listen to them when necessary," Abe said, after placing a few red rosettes marking the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s scarce victories on a results board at his party headquarters.
Critics say Abe, who pledged to boost Japan's security profile, rewrite its pacifist constitution and nurture patriotism in schools, was out of touch with voters.

As Japan's first leader born after World War II, Abe won early praise for improving ties with China and the Republic of Korea that had chilled during the five-year rule of Koizumi, his predecessor.

(China Daily via agencies, Xinhua News Agency, July 30, 2007)

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