Japan's PM accepts 'utter defeat'

July 30, 2007 - 0:0

TOKYO (BBC) - Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has accepted his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has suffered ""utter defeat"" in polls for the upper house of parliament.

But as votes were being counted, Mr. Abe said he had no intention of resigning. Projections suggest the LDP will lose control of the chamber for the first time in more than 50 years - handing a landslide victory to the opposition. The party has been hit by a series of ministerial gaffes and scandals since Mr. Abe took office 10 months ago. ""The responsibility for this utter defeat rests with me,"" Mr. Abe told reporters at his party headquarters in Tokyo. But in media interviews he insisted he would not be stepping down. ""I accept these results with humility, and continue to heed the public's opinions while pushing ahead with reforms,"" Mr. Abe was quoted as saying by Kyodo News agency. Half of the 242 seats in the House of Councilors were being contested. The LDP-led ruling coalition currently controls 132 seats. It needs to win 64 of the 121 seats that are up for grabs in order to retain its majority. But Japanese TV reports suggest the LDP has fallen far short of its target, winning between 31 and 43 seats out of the 76 it was defending. The BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is on course to become the largest party in the upper house. It would mean a DPJ lawmaker would become president of the chamber and control its legislative agenda, making it more difficult for Mr. Abe's administration to get laws through parliament. Tomohiro Nakamura, a 53-year-old bank employee in Tokyo, said he had voted for the opposition ""because I have no other choice when LDP politics is in bad shape"". However, Nobuyuki Ietaka, a 48-year-old computer company salesman, said he was voting for the ruling party. ""I don't think other parties are great and I don't think the opposition could change things at all,"" he told the Associated Press. The most significant factor in Mr. Abe's falling popularity has been a nationwide pensions debacle, with a government agency admitting it has lost records relating to millions of payments. Pensions are a key issue in Japan's greying society and, although the mistake was not made under Mr. Abe's leadership, many voters have started to question his skills in the job. Mr. Abe, 52, became prime minister following popular leader Junichiro Koizumi's decision to step down last year. His ruling coalition has a sizeable majority in the more powerful lower house - which chooses the prime minister