Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - Page 4 News List

Kan’s Democrats nurse wounds after vote

AP , TOKYO

Japan’s ruling party faced the prospect of political gridlock yesterday as bad losses in weekend parliamentary elections undermine its attempts to reduce the second-largest economy’s ballooning budget deficit and revive growth.

Half of the 242 seats in the upper house of parliament were up for grabs on Sunday. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won only 44 seats, while opposition parties made major gains.

That leaves the Democrats and their tiny coalition partner with 110 seats in the chamber, well below their majority of 122 before the vote. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party won 51 seats, bringing its total to 84.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s party will retain power because it still controls the more powerful lower house. But the results are a dramatic contrast to the Democrats’ landslide victory just a year ago, when they seized control of parliament.

The Democrats didn’t appear to be reaching out to other parties yesterday to join their coalition — and none showed an interest in coming on board. Failure to regain a majority would make it difficult to move ahead on their agenda, which includes cutting wasteful spending, making government more open and creating a solid social security system as the population rapidly ages and shrinks.

In office just a month, Kan warned that Japan’s finances could face a Greece-like meltdown if it doesn’t cut back on soaring debt — twice the country’s GDP — and suggested raising the sales tax as a solution. Voters, already suffering from the economic downturn, rejected that idea.

“The sudden announcement increased voter distrust toward Kan. No one is sure what he is going to come out with, and the feeling is that he may suddenly renege on past promises,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Kan acknowledged defeat early yesterday morning, saying he failed to fully explain his proposal to raise the sales tax from 5 percent to as much as 10 percent in coming years.

While many voters say a tax hike may be inevitable, they want a more detailed discussion first.

“If we look at the deficit, it’s reasonable to raise taxes to 10 percent, because we really have to revitalize the economy,” said Sadako Fukano, 71, a housewife in Tokyo. “However, the prime minister’s explanation as to where he’s going to spend the tax money wasn’t enough.”

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