Aso concedes defeat in Japan poll

Exit polls indicate landslide victory for opposition, end to conservatives reign

National broadcaster NHK, using projections based on exit polls of roughly 4,00,000 voters, said the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was set to win 300 seats and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Aso only about 100. TV Asahi, another major network, said the Democratic Party would win 315 seats. There are 480 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The Liberal Democrats have governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955.
“These results are very severe,” Aso said in a news conference at the party headquarters, conceding his party was headed for a big loss. “There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party.”

Aso said he would have to accept responsibility for the results, suggesting that he would resign as party president. Other LDP leaders also said they would step down, though official results were not to be released until early Monday morning. The loss by the Liberal Democrats — traditionally a pro-business, conservative party –– would open the way for the DPJ, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, to replace Aso and establish a new cabinet, possibly within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Hatoyama thanked voters for supporting his party. “I am thankful for the support shown by the public,” he said. “Looking at the situation so far, I feel extremely grateful,” he said, stopping short of a full claim of victory. “I think that the public has felt an extreme sense of frustration with the government of the ruling party.”

Hatoyama’s party campaigned on a promise of change and people-centred politics against the LDP, which has drawn scorn amid the economic downturn.

“People are very angry about the present politics,” said Hatoyama.

He spoke of his party’s reform agenda and said: “We are coming close to the point of achieving this agenda.”

He added that “if a DPJ-centred government is formed, there will be no change in our plans to form a coalition” with the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party, two smaller groups.

Economic slump

The vote was seen as a barometer of frustrations over Japan’s worst economic slump since World War II and a loss of confidence in the ruling party’s ability to tackle tough problems such as the rising national debt and rapidly ageing population.

The Democrats have embraced a more populist platform, promising handouts for families with children and farmers and a higher minimum wage. The Democrats have also said they will seek a more independent relationship with Washington, while forging closer ties with Japan’s Asian neighbours, including China.

But Hatoyama, who holds a doctorate in engineering from Stanford University, insists he will not seek dramatic change in Japan’s foreign policy, saying the US-Japan alliance would “continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy.”

The LDP’s secretary-general, Hiroyuki Hosoda, said he and two other top officials plan to submit their resignations to Aso, who serves as president of the party.

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