Japan’s opposition party won historic elections in an apparent landslide on Sunday, media projections said, sending the conservatives to defeat after 54 years of nearly unbroken rule amid widespread economic anxiety and desire for change.
The left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan was set to win 300 or more of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament, ousting the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who have governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, according to exit polls by all major Japanese TV networks.
The loss by LDP — traditionally a pro-business, conservative party — would open the way for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), headed by Yukio Hatoyama, to replace Prime Minister Taro Aso and establish a new Cabinet, possibly within the next few weeks.
The vote was seen as a barometer of frustrations over Japan’s worst economic slump since World War II and a loss of confidence in the ruling Liberal Democrats’ ability to tackle tough problems such as the rising national debt and rapidly aging population.
The Democrats have embraced a more populist platform, promising handouts for families with children and farmers and a higher minimum wage.
The Democrats have also said they will seek a more independent relationship with Washington, while forging closer ties with Japan’s Asian neighbours, including China.
But Hatoyama, who holds a doctorate in engineering from Stanford University, insists he will not seek dramatic change in Japan’s foreign policy, saying the US-Japan alliance would “continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy.”
National broadcaster NHK, using projections based on exit polls of roughly 400,000 voters, said the Democratic Party was set to win 300 seats and the Liberal Democrats only about 100.
Hatoyama’s party held 112 seats before parliament was dissolved in July.
Aso said he took responsibility for the defeat, adding an LDP leadership race to pick a successor should be held soon.