Opposition set to wrest power in Japan: Exit polls

TOKYO: Japanese voters swept to power an untested centre-left party

today in an electoral avalanche that ended more than half a century of almost unbroken conservative rule, according to exit polls.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), led by Yukio Hatoyama, was set to storm home with more than 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament, according to the exit polls of several

television stations.

Voters frustrated with the government’s handling of Japan’s worst post-war recession punished Prime Minister Taro Aso and forced the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from office for only the second time since 1955.

“It’s a landslide win. It’s a dramatic election,” Hiroshi Hoshi, a veteran journalist with the Asahi Shimbun daily, told TV Asahi. Loud whoops of joy rang through a venue in Tokyo’s Roppongi entertainment district where the DPJ was celebrating.

“We have worked desperately to take the government reins and finally received the support of the majority of the people to make it certain now,” senior DPJ official Yoshihiko Noda told NHK television.

The results suggest the soft-spoken Hatoyama, 62, is on course to take over as prime minister at a time when the world’s number two economy is just emerging from recession but still struggling with record unemployment.

Hatoyama, a US-trained engineering scholar and scion of an old political dynasty, campaigned on a promise of change and people-centred politics against the business-friendly LDP, headed by fellow political blueblood Aso.

Recalling US President Barack Obama’s election victory last year, Hatoyama asked voters in a final campaign speech yesterday at a Tokyo railway station: “Why can’t we do what the United States could do?” “I think we need a change now,” agreed one voter after casting his ballot today at a Tokyo elementary school.

“It’s too long for a single party to dominate national politics.” The DPJ already controlled the upper house with the support of smaller parties, including the Social Democrats, frustrating the LDP’s agenda in the lower house and leading often to legislative deadlock.

Now, the DPJ looks set to take the lower house as well with the numbers to push through legislation. The DPJ has promised better social welfare, which it says would help recession-hit families.