Unseated Japan opposition leader steps down

Unseated Japan opposition leader steps down

TOKYO - The leader of Japan's largest opposition party stepped down Monday after losing his seat in a weekend election drubbing.

Banri Kaieda, who led the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to its third consecutive thrashing at the polls, was among the casualties on a dreary night for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's main opponents.

Abe's ruling coalition waltzed home with 326 seats - a two-thirds majority - while the DPJ managed 73, just 11 up on last time and a long way off the numbers that gave the party control of the house between 2009 and 2012.

"I decided to resign as the DPJ leader when it was confirmed I lost my seat before dawn today," Kaieda told a news conference.

"During an across-the-nation campaign trail I heard voices of people who said 'please stop the Abe government'... but our tally of seats is not enough," he said.

While Abe billed the vote as a referendum on his economic management, where policy measures have sent the yen plunging and the stock market soaring, most commentators agree the unpopularity of his opponents was a big factor in his victory.

The DPJ, elected in 2009 on a wave of optimism after more than half a century of almost unbroken rule by the LDP, governed haphazardly until 2012 under three weak prime ministers.

"I heard voters saying 'it's been only two years, we remember what had happened two years ago,'" Kaieda said, when asked about the reason for the party's rout.

While Abe's approval ratings remain solid at around 40 per cent, there is disquiet over many of his policies, including his desire to restart nuclear reactors shuttered after the Fukushima disaster and his penchant for playing down Japanese war crimes.

The DPJ's signal failure to capitalise on these and other issues - which barely figured in the campaign - will be the cause of some soul searching.

"We deeply apologise to our supporters," the DPJ said in a statement.

"The DPJ is still on its way to restoration and we will face a long uphill battle before receiving people's mandate. But we pledge we will come back in the next battle as a party that would be able to take a role in a two-party system."

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