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DPJ loses majority in Upper House elections

Date Posted: 2010-07-15

It was worse than Prime Minister Naoto Kan had expected; his Democratic Party of Japan was hammered hard in Sunday’s House of Councilors election—Japan’s Upper House in the Diet—to the point losses were severe enough to send ripples through the party that Kan might not survive the turmoil.

The DPJ, which only weeks before the election began downgrading its thoughts of garnering 60 seats down to 56, and then 54. When the ballots cast across the 16-day voting period that began June 25th were counted, the DPJ managed to win only 44, enough to wipe out the party’s majority. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which only a year ago was bounced out of the leadership role after five decades, was the clear winner with a rebound that gave them 51 seats in the election, a gain of 13.

The election, called by many as a judgment against Kan’s decision to raise the idea of a consumption tax hike, is expected to cause chaos in government over the coming months. Kan’s DPJ is strongly in control of the Lower House, but will have difficulty in passing bills without a majority or the ability to forge a ruling coalition. Seats won by the DPJ, together with those of allies, only totaled 110 including 66 seats not involved in the election, nearly a dozen short of what was needed to maintain a majority. Instead, Kan will have to woo rival parties for support on each and every issue.

Other parties who scored major victories, including Your Party that moved from one seat to 11 in the Upper House, say they’ll not become part of any Kan coalition, but will work with—or against—the government on individual issues. There were 121 seats in the Upper House up for grabs in the election, with 437 candidates in the running. Voter turnout was calculated at 58.07% of eligible voters according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Kan, the nation’s fifth prime minister since 2006, vowed to continue in office. One day after the election, the DPJ board of directors agreed to keep Kan as Prime Minister, and Yukio Edano as the Secretary General. The board also sent signals it would keep the Prime Minister’s cabinet intact, too.

Political wrangling began immediately, with talk of a new role for former DPJ Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa, who called on party leadership to take responsibility for the election losses. Ozawa’s already spoken out, calling for meetings with not only party leaders, but with “legislators who lost their seats in the election”, to discuss strategy.

Criticism of the government’s decision to support relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station was quick in coming, and linked as another possible cause for voter dissatisfaction with Kan. Kan, during his single month in office before the election, had agreed to back both a 2006 U.S.-Japan Agreement to move the airbase from Ginowan City to Henoko in northern Okinawa, and a reaffirmation pact on the matter signed by his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, less than a week before he resigned as Prime Minister.

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