On the ropes:

Voters in Japan have inflicted every possible electoral humiliation on PM Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party short of forcing him to resign. On Sunday, the centre-right governing party won only 37 of the 121 contested upper house seats. The main opposition party, Democrats, was the main beneficiary. Previous PMs have stepped down under similar circumstances. But Abe is not legally required to do so as long as he holds on to the lower house majority bequeathed to him by his immensely popular predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.

The political message is clear. If Abe is determined to stay, he must change course, spending far less of his energy promoting a strident revival of military nationalism, and far more of it on delivering the kind of competence and clean government fervour that made Koizumi, who was also a nationalist, such an effective leader. While the electoral debacle was bad news for Abe and the Liberal Democrats, the possible emergence of a real two-party system is good news for Japan. For most of the postwar era, Japan has suffered from one-party government, which has fed a political culture of corruption and wasteful pork barrel spending. Koizumi was popular because he confronted that culture head on. Abe surrendered to it, and is now paying the political price. —International Herald Tribune