Tue, Jul 31, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Abe clings to job, promises change in his Cabinet


A defiant Prime Minister Shinzo Abe clung desperately to his job yesterday, despite a humiliating election defeat that threw the future of his feeble government into question and triggered calls for the leader's resignation.

Abe raised the specter of a "political vacuum" as he dismissed mounting public pressure to step down for losing the majority in parliament's upper house on Sunday. Instead, he vowed to soothe voter anger by reshuffling his Cabinet and pushing forth reforms with new vigor.

"I cannot walk away even though the situation is extremely difficult. I decided [to stay] because we cannot afford to create a political vacuum," Abe said at an afternoon news conference focusing on damage control on Sunday's devastating loss.

"My responsibility is to fulfill the duty to fully achieve economic recovery," he said.

Abe also shot down suggestions that he should call snap elections in parliament's lower house -- where his coalition still maintains a tight grip -- to re-establish his political mandate. Any upheaval in that chamber could put a new premier in office.

Public outrage over millions of missing pension records and a series of political scandals stripped Abe's Liberal Democratic Party of its majority in parliament's 242-seat upper house on Sunday, while handing the opposition huge gains.

The LDP has ruled almost continuously since 1955 and remains in control of the lower house, which chooses the prime minister. But Sunday's defeat could usher in an era of political instability and policy-making gridlock. It also further undercut already tenuous support for Abe, who has fallen from grace since taking office with stellar approval ratings less than a year ago as Japan's youngest-ever premier.

By yesterday morning, newspaper editorials were urging Abe to resign.

"Voters gave a clear failing mark," the Asahi newspaper said. "The prime minister should face the results seriously and step down."

The Tokyo and Mainichi newspapers meanwhile called on Abe to disband the lower house for elections.

"You have yet to be baptized in a general election," the Tokyo Newspaper said in an editorial addressed to the beleaguered prime minister. "We call for an election to be held promptly to give voters the opportunity to make their choice."

Official election results released early Monday showed the LDP and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito, with a total of 103 seats -- a 30-seat loss that left it far short of the 122 needed to control the house. The main opposition Democratic Party grabbed 112 seats, up from 81.

Only 121, or half, of the upper chamber's 242 seats were up for grabs in Sunday's polls.

Among the first casualties was the LDP's No. 2 official, Secretary-General Hidenao Nakagawa, who resigned after polls closed.

Calls for Abe's resignation could also start sounding from within the Liberal Democratic Party. While there is no clear front-runner to succeed Abe as premier, Foreign Minister Taro Aso is often cited as a possible contender.

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