TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Sunday conceded defeat in the general election and said he was stepping down as leader from his humbled governing party.
“I will resign as the head of the Democratic Party of Japan because I take this result seriously,” he told a press conference. “I want to deeply apologise as I could not produce results.”
Noda was speaking after NHK television, citing forecasts based on both official results and its own exit polls, said the Liberal Democratic Party had won at least 255 seats with 95 seats undecided, against 39 seats for the DPJ.
The LDP is expected to easily secure a majority of the 480-seat chamber with New Komeito, its junior coalition partner, which is expected to win at least 25 seats, NHK said.
Asked why the DPJ suffered such a haemorrhaging of support, Noda said: “We were unable to live up to people’s expectations when we came into government [in 2009].”
“Politicians must take responsibility for results. The biggest responsibility for such a severe defeat lies with me as the party leader.”
Many in Japan are hoping that the landslide victory of the opposition Liberal Democrats and trouncing of the Democratic Party in Sunday’s parliamentary election will help the country break out of a 20-year economic slump.
Meanwhile, Shinzo Abe, who piloted his Liberal Democratic Party to victory in Sunday’s election, said there is no doubt about Japan’s ownership of islands at the centre of a dispute with China.
“China is challenging the fact that [the islands] are Japan’s inherent territory,” said Abe, who is expected to become prime minister. “Our objective is to stop the challenge. We don’t intend to worsen relations between Japan and China.”
Japan and China have been at loggerheads for decades over the sovereignty of a small chain of islands in the East China Sea.
The dispute flared badly in September after Tokyo nationalised islands that it calls the Senkakus, but China knows as the Diaoyus.
Chinese boats have plied waters near the chain most days since and on Thursday Beijing sent a plane to overfly them. Japan scrambled fighter jets to head it off.
“Japan and China need to share the recognition that having good relations is in the national interests of both countries. China lacks this recognition a little bit. I want them to think anew about mutually beneficial strategic relations,” Abe said on Sunday.
Abe, who has struck a hawkish pose throughout the election campaign, said his first port of call as prime minister would be the United States.
“We must rebuild the ties of the Japan-US alliance. The Japan-US alliance must come first,” he told private broadcaster Nippon TV.
Tokyo relies on Washington for its security under a post-Second World War treaty that allows the US to station tens of thousands of troops in Japan.
But that alliance has been seen to drift under the three-year rule of the Democratic Party of Japan.
He also spoke of the need for Japan to boost its other ties in the region.
“We also need to deepen ties with Asia. I want to build up ties with Asian nations including India and Australia. After enhancing our diplomacy, I want to improve relations with China.”