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Japan PM bloc suffers big election defeat

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (second from left) puts a rose on the name of a candidate who is expected to be elected in the upper house election during a live TV appearance at his Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo, yesterday, after an upper house election.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (second from left) puts a rose on the name of a candidate who is expected to be elected in the upper house election during a live TV appearance at his Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo, yesterday, after an upper house election.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative ruling camp suffered a devastating defeat in upper house elections yesterday, but the 52-year-old conservative insisted he would stay in his post despite the drubbing.

"I am determined to carry out my promises although the situation is severe," Mr Abe said, after acknowledging that he was responsible for the huge loss.

"We need to restore the people's trust in the country and the government," a weary and drawn-looking Shinzo Abe told reporters.

Voters angry after a string of government scandals and gaffes and the bungling of pension records stripped Shinzo Abe's coalition of its upper house majority in his first big electoral test since taking office 10 months ago.

Mr Abe's coalition will not be ousted from government by a loss in the upper house, since it has a huge majority in the more powerful lower chamber, which elects the premier.

But, with the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan winning control of the upper house, laws will be hard to enact, threatening policy deadlock.

"We need to discuss issues closely with the Democratic Party in the upper house and listen to them when necessary," said Mr Abe, after placing a few red rosettes marking the LDP's scarce victories on a results board at his party's headquarters.

Critics say Shinzo Abe, who pledged to boost Japan's security profile, rewrite its pacifist constitution and nurture patriotism in schools, was out of touch with voters.

"Prime Minister Abe has projects like revising the constitution, but the Democrats have been saying that people's everyday lives should come first. I think those policies should be prioritised," said Hirofumi Nemoto, a newspaper seller in Chiba, who said he voted for the Democratic Party.

Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa - a pugnacious veteran who bolted from the LDP 14 years ago - had pledged to shrink income gaps, protect the weak and help farmers - a group that had long supported the LDP. Mr Ozawa, who suffers from heart problems, saw a doctor and was to rest for a day or two to recover from fatigue after his tough campaigning, a party official said.

Some in Mr Abe's party expressed dismay at his decision to stay.

Shinzo Abe, Japan's first leader born after World War II, won early praise for improving ties with Beijing and Seoul that had chilled during the five-year reign of Koizumi, his predecessor.

But doubts about his leadership were fanned by gaffes and scandals that led two cabinet members to resign and one to commit suicide, as well as revelations that the government had lost track of millions of pension premium payments.

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