6TH LD: Kan's ruling coalition to lose majority in upper house
Sunday, July 11, 2021 9:45 AM

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TOKYO, Jul. 11, 2010 (Kyodo News International) --
(Editors: UPDATING)

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's ruling coalition is certain to lose its majority in the House of Councillors in Sunday's election, suffering a serious setback in its efforts to lay the foundations for a strong administration to revitalize Japan since the change of power last year, Kyodo News exit polls showed.

A total of 437 candidates competed for the 121 seats up for grabs in the upper house election, with Kan's Democratic Party of Japan running neck and neck with the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, both on course to win nearly 50 seats, according to the exit polls.

The setback will increase political uncertainty in Japan as it struggles to climb out of a prolonged economic slump while facing a host of other challenges as a result of drastic changes in the country's social structure, ranging from an aging population to weakening community bonds.

It was the first national election since the DPJ came to power after winning a landslide in the lower house election in August, promising to cut wasteful spending of taxpayers' money and put more cash into the hands of people in the prime of their lives.

The election was also the first major test for Kan, who took over on June 8 following his predecessor Yukio Hatoyama's abrupt resignation after less than nine months in office due to a drop in support caused by money scandals and his flip-flops on key policy issues, such as the relocation of a U.S. military base on the island of Okinawa.

The ruling coalition led by the DPJ must secure a total of 56 seats to maintain control of the upper house to avoid policy gridlock.

Kan had set a target of winning at least 54, the number of DPJ seats that were up for grabs in the triennial election. The exit polls show that achieving the target will be difficult.

The polls also predict that the DPJ's junior coalition partner, the People's New Party, may not win any seats in the election.

This means that the DPJ, which holds 62 seats in the upper chamber that are not being contested this time round, may face the challenge of finding new allies to secure a majority to pass bills smoothly in the Diet.

Despite the DPJ's difficulties, Kan told a senior lawmaker of his party Sunday night that he will not step down, the lawmaker said.

The DPJ will remain in power even if it falls short of a majority in the upper house as it controls the more powerful House of Representatives.

But it is almost certain that Kan's grip on the government will loosen and rifts will deepen within the ruling party ahead of its leadership election in September.

Kan, the fifth prime minister since 2006, put fiscal consolidation at the heart of the 17-day election campaign.

Shortly after Kan took the helm, his Cabinet enjoyed approval ratings of around 60 to 70 percent, making a dramatic recovery from those in the final days of Hatoyama's Cabinet when ratings were below 20 percent.

But high expectations of Kan -- Japan's first leader in 14 years not born into a blue-blood political family -- have waned and approval ratings for the Cabinet have fallen by more than 20 percentage points over the month.

The decline was in part due to Kan's proposal to launch cross-party discussions on a possible hike in the consumption tax, currently at 5 percent, after the election as the country needs to contain its debt and secure social welfare costs amid the graying of society.

The LDP, which ruled almost uninterrupted for more than 50 years until last year, is set to increase its number of seats from the 38 it had at stake in the election, the exit polls showed.

It is even possible that the LDP will win more seats than the DPJ.

Your Party, formed last August by LDP defector Yoshimi Watanabe, which opposes tax increases, is projected to win nearly 10 seats, according to the polls.

Other major parties, including the New Komeito party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, are finding it hard to secure the same number of seats among those contested that they held prior to the election.

It is extremely difficult in Japan for a single political party to control both chambers, something that has not happened since 1989.

Half of the 242 seats in the upper house come up for grabs every three years. Of the 121, single- or multi-seat prefectural constituencies account for 73, while the rest fall under the national proportional representation section.

About 100 million Japanese citizens aged 20 or older were eligible to vote from 7 a.m. Sunday until polling stations closed by 8 p.m.

Voter turnout stood at 58.09 percent as of 9 p.m., down marginally from the rate at the same time in the previous upper house election in 2007, according to Kyodo News estimates.

Full results are expected to be known by Monday morning.

A House of Councillors election in Japan has often served as a barometer of whether a prime minister can build a stable government.

Many past prime ministers, including Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1998 and Shinzo Abe in 2007, have stepped down following crushing defeats in upper house elections.

However, Junichiro Koizumi seized the opportunity to stay in power for five years through 2006, an unusually long period in recent years in Japan, by winning a landslide victory in the 2001 election.

 

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