- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

TOKYO | Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso came under pressure Sunday to step down, as his ruling coalition suffered a major defeat in Tokyo metropolitan elections, viewed as a run-up to an upcoming nationwide poll.

Mr. Aso’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and junior coalition partner, New Komeito, lost a narrow majority in the 127-member Tokyo assembly, with opposition parties gaining 66 seats. The biggest winner was the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) with 54 seats.

“We seriously accept the stern judgment of people in Tokyo,” a grim-faced Nobuteru Ishihara, acting secretary-general of the LDP and a son of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, said on national television.

The election appears to put the DPJ in a position to capture the lower house of parliament and the prime ministership, a rare occurrence in Japan, where the LDP has dominated politics since the end of World War II.

Mr. Aso is likely to face a no-confidence motion as early as Monday, though it would most likely be defeated because the LDP has a majority in the lower house.

“Mr. Aso cannot govern as he has been thrown into confusion,” said Akikazu Hashimoto, a professor of political science at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo. “I believe it is the prime minister himself who does not know what to do.”

“The LDP has been in disarray,” said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based political analyst, who noted that many longtime party office holders are being defeated by young candidates running the first time.

Last week, Mr. Aso told reporters in the Italian city of L’Aquila, where the Group of Eight summit was held, “The Tokyo election is a local poll. It is the judgment of various local issues by Tokyo residents. As I have repeatedly said, it is not directly linked to national politics.”

But local media reports early Monday quoted Mr. Aso as telling senior lawmakers he planned to dissolve the lower house as early as Tuesday and call general elections for Aug. 8. That outcome, however, is not certain as the prime minister faces opposition in his party to quick elections, Kyodo news service reported.

Major polls show 60 percent to 70 percent of those surveyed do not support Mr. Aso’s Cabinet.

Moreover, the pendulum of Japanese public opinion appears to be swinging against hereditary political dynasties. Mr. Aso is the grandson of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida and the son-in-law of Zenko Suzuki, another prime minister.

Since taking office in September, Mr. Aso, 68, has faced declining public support, with many voters upset with his handling of the economy, now in its worst recession in postwar history.

His LDP has ruled Japan for more than 50 years, with the exception of a brief period in the early 1990s.

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