Battered, Japan’s Democrats Elect New Leader

Japan’s ruling Democratic Party picked up two-thirds of the seats contested in a general election on Sunday, adding to momentum for Premier Shinzo Abe to seek a third term in September. The party’s formation…

Battered, Japan’s Democrats Elect New Leader

Japan’s ruling Democratic Party picked up two-thirds of the seats contested in a general election on Sunday, adding to momentum for Premier Shinzo Abe to seek a third term in September.

The party’s formation a year ago has paved the way for some economic reforms and a stronger security stance by Japan. However, policy initiatives by the Democrats have failed to improve the performance of the Japanese economy, with lackluster growth and deflation. The party was thrown out in 2009 by an aging and shrinking population.

The outcome of the election marks a dramatic turnaround for a party that looked like a joke of epic proportions last year. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and many pundits predicted that a recovery of the stock market and a two-track economic policy would usher in the Democrats’ demise. The socialists staged a quick comeback after their new leader, Ryutaro Hashimoto, claimed the leadership in June of last year. His party had gained power through protest against an unpopular former leader in 2009, but it appeared that the current wave of discontent would propel the party into opposition.

The results today are a clear rebuke of Mr. Abe’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Though many people welcomed the agreement for its prospects of economic growth, the Democrats took a more skeptical approach and ran against the deal, which meant they were deemed too left-wing for many voters.

The results released from Sunday’s election leave the ruling Democratic Party in control of 125 of the 480 seats contested. This will enable them to choose the new prime minister ahead of the party convention in September. This would give the party a majority in the lower house of parliament, which would probably mean an early dissolution of parliament and a snap election.

The biggest winner today was the Liberal Democratic Party, which took 121 of the 280 seats up for election. This means they will remain in power — but should there be an election in September, the Democrats might have a stronger claim on their old job.

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