Japan's ruling party takes severe drubbing in upper house election

Japan's voters have fired a warning shot across the bows of Prime Minister Naoto Kan's coalition government, slashing its upper-house majority and dealing him a potentially fatal political blow just a month after he took office.

With results still coming in from yesterday's election, exit polls suggest that Mr Kan's Democratic Party (DPJ) will fall well short of its 54-seat target, even with the help of its coalition partner, the People's New Party.

The election is the first since the DPJ dramatically ended over half a century of nearly uninterrupted conservative rule last September when it swept the Liberal Democrats from power.

The party has largely squandered its popularity amid accusations of corruption and policy flip-flops. Mr Kan's predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, quit last month after performing a humiliating U-turn on the relocation of a US military base in the southern prefecture of Okinawa.

Political commentators billed yesterday's poll as a test of Mr Kan's ability to pull his party out of the fire. Japan's fifth prime minister in three years, he took office on 8 June with approval ratings of over 60 percent. But he has since seen his popularity plummet by 20 points as he contemplates tackling a long taboo by hiking the consumption tax.

Mr Kan (63) says the tax is needed to boost welfare spending and rescue Japan from a "quagmire" of debt, which he warned last month could plunge the country's roughly 435 trillion yen (£3.3trn) economy into a Greek-style crisis. Japan's vast public debt is approaching 200 per cent of GDP, or nearly ¥7m per citizen – double the Greek figure and the highest in the industrialised world.

Floating the tax just before the election, however, dented his government ratings and forced the Prime Minister to postpone a proposed 5 per cent hike until the next lower house poll – due before late 2013. Mr Kan ignored warnings from some DPJ MPs to hold fire on the tax until the party was on firmer electoral ground.

Half the seats in the less-powerful 242-member upper house were up for grabs. The Democrats majority in the lower house meant it was never in fear of losing power but the worse-than-expected results could prove prophetic.

Mr Kan is essentially a provisional leader until the Democrats' leadership election in September, so any sign that the bottom is falling out of his popularity will likely be costly. Japan's upper house elections have often proved a barometer of prime ministerial future's – Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1998 and Shinzo Abe in 2007 quit after drubbings in similar polls.

The result is also likely to complicate the Prime Minister's debt pledges and embolden the opposition LDP, which has emerged stronger from the election. Early indications were that the LDP would finish with 81 to 83 seats, up from 71.

The Prime Minister has proposed a UK Labour Party-style "Third Way" approach, switching taxes and spending away from wasteful infrastructure and construction projects to health, welfare and the environment. The agenda means wrestling control over policy from Japan's elite bureaucrats, a fight that demands a strong parliamentary majority.

A former civil activist, Mr Kan has pledged not to resign whatever the results of the election. DPJ insiders for and against him were briefing the media yesterday with some calling for him to take the blame for the defeat. "There is no doubt that the Prime Minister's remarks on the consumption tax affected the campaign," one DPJ executive told state broadcaster NHK. "He will need to clarify his responsibility."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Asset Finance Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment