LDP take the lead

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Tokyo - The "new age" of Japanese politics, which dawned amid great fanfare three years ago, appears to be drawing to an premature and apathetic close. In general elections yesterday, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which lost power in 1993 after 38 years of unbroken rule, came within a whisker of regaining its majority amid the lowest voter turnout in modern Japanese history, writes Richard Lloyd Parry.

The result was a fitting conclusion to a lifeless campaign which has disappointed already fading hopes of political change. In the absence of a simple majority the LDP will have to form another coalition government, although with a strengthened power base which puts the party and its leader, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, in a commanding position.

With all but a handful of the results declared, the LDP was projected to win about 243 of the 500 seats in the Lower House of the Diet (parliament), up from 206. Its chief opponent, Shinshinto (New Frontier Party) maintained its pre-election strength with 160, but the Social Democrats, the LDP's traditional opponents and latterly its coalition partners, lost more than half of their 35 seats.

Voter turn-out was a little under 60 per cent, the lowest since the Second World War. Those voters who turned out opted for a return to the stability of the past. Two out of five, however, could not care either way.