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Voters in Japan deal a setback to Koizumi
Updated: 2004-07-12 08:28

Japanese voters dealt Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Liberal Democratic Party a setback in upper-house parliamentary elections Sunday, registering concern over issues like pension changes and Japanese soldiers in Iraq. But Mr. Koizumi said he would not resign.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi closes his eyes at his Liberal Democratic Party headquarters as results start to come in for Japan's Upper House election in Tokyo July 11, 2004. Koizumi's party looked headed for a setback in Sunday's election, a verdict on his three years in office that would weaken his clout and might hamper his economic reforms. [Reuters]
Exit polls by Japanese television showed that Liberal Democrats and their allies won 48 of the 121 seats that were up for grabs, Bloomberg News reported.

If borne out in the final results, that would mean Mr. Koizumi missed even the modest target of 50 victories that he set before the elections.

By contrast, the polls showed the opposition Democratic Party of Japan on track to win 52 or 53 seats. The party, which was established to focus on free trade, said it had only hoped to win more seats than its rival did.

Half of the 242 seats in the upper house were up for election yesterday. Of the seats in contention, 51 had been occupied by Liberal Democrats and 39 by the Democratic Party of Japan.

The results indicate, however, that Mr. Koizumi's party and its coalition partners like the New Komeito party will hold onto their majority in the upper house.

And in spite of the discouraging poll results, the prime minister said yesterday that he would not resign.

"It's the job of the prime minister to continue even when times are difficult," Mr. Koizumi said on TBS Television in Japan, according to Bloomberg.

The last time a prime minister stepped down over an upper-house election was in 1998, when the Liberal Democrats won just 44 seats and forced Ryutaro Hashimoto to resign.

But there is little argument that Mr. Koizumi has stumbled onto rough ground lately, terrain likely to become even rockier as the election fallout spreads.

Although Mr. Koizumi took office just over three years ago in April 2001, his tenure is already the longest for a Japanese prime minister since the 1980's.

Where voters once valued his personality and promises of economic recover, however, skepticism has crept in. It may not have helped that the Liberal Democrats have run Japan for all but 10 months during the last five decades, setting the stage for voter fatigue.

The results in the upper house elections are more a referendum on the dominant party than a makeover of the government itself. The lower house chooses the prime minister, among other responsibilities, while the upper house has its strongest policy tool in the blunt instrument of veto powers.

The leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, Katsuya Okada, has been nicknamed "Prince No Smile" by his followers, and he debated whether to prove them wrong as election results came in yesterday.

"I think if I see clearly that we have won more seats than the L.D.P., then I will make a happy face," Mr. Okada said, according to Agence France-Presse. "But we havent gotten to that point yet."

A member of the Democratic Party exhibited far less restraint after his victory yesterday. Shokichi Kina, a folk star who campaigned against the war in Iraq, held a concert after being notified that he won, The Associated Press reported.

"Trade all weapons for instruments," The A.P. quoted him as saying. "Turn all military bases into flower gardens."

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