Stepping down in the face of a heavy election defeat is not unprecedented.
In 1998, then-Prime Minster Ryutaro Hashimoto was forced to quit after the Liberal Democratic Party won just 44 seats out of 121. Sousuke Uno lost his job as prime minister after winning only 36 seats in 1989. Abe himself resigned as secretary-general of the party in 2004, when the Liberal Democrats won 49 seats, two short of their goal.
Some senior LDP lawmakers were taking a wait-and-see approach in the aftermath. Ruling party veteran Koichi Kato described Abe’s choice to stay as hasty. “I’m not sure if it was the right decision,” Kato said.
Yukio Hatoyama, a Democratic Party leader, said the vote sent “a strong message of no-confidence” to Abe.
Abe painted his continuation as a matter of making good on previous pledges to push through reforms. He said economic revival and constitutional reform will top the agenda as his party moves forward.
“I’m ready for a rocky road, but we cannot go on without pursuing the reform track, and that requires commitment and plans,” Abe said. “I’ve already promised reforms that must be put into action. I’ve kept my promises and I will continue to do so.”
Sunday’s defeat, however, will make it more difficult for the LDP to pass bills that are contested, with the upper house expected to have a president from the Democratic Party of Japan whose members would also dominate key posts in house committees.
Abe, 52, promised to build a “beautiful Japan” when he became the nation’s youngest-ever prime minister in September, and he won points for mending strained diplomatic ties with South Korea and China.
But his honeymoon was short-lived.
In the first of a series of scandals, Administrative Reform Minister Genichiro Sata stepped down in December over charges of misusing of political funds. In May, Abe’s agriculture minister killed himself amid allegations he also misused public money. The new agriculture minister became embroiled in another funds scandal.
Perhaps most infuriating for voters, Abe brushed off warnings by the opposition late last year that pension records had been lost. That inaction came back to haunt him in the spring, when the full scope of the records losses emerged. Some 50 million claims had been wiped out.