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Japan's Abe Won't Quit Despite Blow at Polls


Japan's prime minister says he's going to stay in office, despite yesterdays huge election defeat for his party. The loss in control of the upper house of parliament is a crushing result for Shinzo Abe and for the party that's dominated Japanese politics for the past half century.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports.


Unidentified Woman: (Japanese spoken)

LOUISA LIM: For the moment the polls closed, the predictions were bad for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the final results were humiliating. His Liberal Democratic Party and its partner needed 64 seats to keep their majority in the upper half of parliament. They got just 37.

Looking tired, Shinzo Abe last night took responsibility for the thumping that said he'd stay on.

Prime Minister SHINZO ABE (Japan): (Japanese spoken)

LIM: To pursue reforms, to build a new country, he said, I have to fulfill my duties as prime minister from now on, that this protest vote is a sign the electorate is angry. Abe's short 10 months in office have been plagued by a series of scandals over his ministers and the lost of 50 million pension records - a serious blunder in this rapidly aging country.


Professor PHIL DEANS (Politics and East Asian Studies, Temple University, Tokyo, Japan): It was a terrible defeat for Abe. A real slap in the face.

LIM: Phil Deans from Temple University in Tokyo, says Abe's nationalist mission to make Japan more assertive was out of touch with the electorate.

Prof. DEANS: His nationalist agenda just doesn't have much appeal. Most Japanese people really don't care that much about revising the constitution, about changing Japan's international role.

Unidentified Group: (Japanese spoken)

LIM: Celebrations by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ, now the largest party in the upper house for the first time in half a century. Democratic politician Yukio Hatoyama spells out the vote's significance.

Mr. Yukio Hatoyama (Parliament member, Japan): (Japanese spoken)

LIM: Every national election is a credibility test for the government, he said. It should understand the answer was no. The Democratic Party Of Japan now controls the legislative agenda and can block government bills, ushering in a period of political gridlock.

According to Koichi Nakano from Sophia University, the opposition control of the upper house could allow more frictions over emerge Japan's alliance with the U.S., which had been especially close under Abe and his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

Professor KOICHI NAKANO (Political Science, Sophia University): The Abe government following closely the line adopted by Mr. Koizumi have been a very staunch ally of the United States. And that might be somewhat modified the support of the United States in Iraq, for example, might got through some change.

LIM: And Phil Dean says tensions could cover matters ranging from the economy to defense cooperation to international affairs.

Prof. DEANS: The DPJ has taken a position of offering more protection to Japanese consumers and producers, so it will be even more difficult to reform the Japanese market, open it up to competition, which is a key issue for the U.S. On defense policy, we'll see a scaling back of Japan's support for Washington's international agenda.

LIM: And another symbolic vote is looming. As early as today, the U.S. Congress could vote on whether to demand an official Japanese apology for forcing women to serve as sex slaves in World War II. This vote overseas is likely to be yet another embarrassment for the Japanese prime minister in a week where he's seen so many of his dreams shattered at home.

Luisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.