Tokyo: Japan's ruling Democrats lost seats in a Parliamentary election Sunday, according to exit polls by local media, dealing a setback to the progressive party's 10-month-old government.
Public broadcaster NHK predicted that the Democratic Party of Japan won less than 50 contested seats in the upper house election, down from 54 before the polls. Other TV stations project the Democrats won 47 to 48 seats.
The projected results mean Prime Minister Naoto Kan's party will lose its 122-seat majority with its tiny coalition partner in the 242-seat upper house.
The election, in which half the seats in the upper chamber were up for grabs, won't directly affect the Democrats' grip on power, because they control the more powerful lower house of parliament.
Official results are not expected until Monday.
The Democrats' projected losses were worse than expected and will make it difficult for them to pass bills and forge ahead on its progressive agenda that includes slashing wasteful government spending, reining in the power of bureaucrats and putting more cash in the hands of consumers.
To avoid parliamentary gridlock, the Democrats, which last year defeated the conservative Liberal Democratic Party that had led Japan for most of the post-World War II era, will probably seek new partners to form a coalition.
The LDP, now the main opposition party, won 48 to 50 seats, according to media outlets' predictions. That would give them 81 to 83 seats in the chamber, up from 71 before the election.
Kan, in office only a month after his predecessor abruptly quit, may have hurt his party's chances by his proposal to raise the sales tax in coming years to rein in Japan's bulging public debt, particularly as the country's population grays and shrinks.
More broadly, the Democrats' setback may reflect a general disillusionment among voters who handed the party a landslide victory last year amid high hopes for change and greater transparency and accountability in politics.
While the Democrats scored points for freezing many public works projects viewed as wasteful, the public was sorely disappointed by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's involvement in a funding scandal and his failure to keep a campaign promise to move a contentious US Marine base off the southern island of Okinawa.
Kan may have contributed to voter doubts about the Democrats' leadership when he appeared to backpedal on his tax hike talk after his initially buoyant approval ratings started to slide. In the waning days of the campaign, he promised that any tax increase wouldn't happen until after the next lower house election, which must be held within three years, and that he wanted a public mandate for any tax decision that was made.
First Published: Sunday, July 11, 2010, 18:17