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Calls grow for Japanese prime ministers resignation after overwhelming election defeat
Japan Elections
Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Democratic Party of Japan, answers reporters questions after the party's executive meeting at the party headquarters in Tokyo Tuesday, July 31, 2007. Ozawa was recovering from cold after campaigning for Sunday's upper house elections in which the main opposition won majority in parliament's 242-seat body upper chamber. - photo by AP Photo/Kyodo News
    TOKYO — Calls escalated Tuesday for Japan’s prime minister to step down over a devastating election defeat, leaving legislators in both the ruling and opposition parties, as well as voters, publicly wondering why he wasn’t quitting.
    In Japan’s hierarchical and conformist culture, it is considered fitting that leaders take responsibility for such failures by resigning. Prime ministers in the past have voluntarily stepped down after similar electoral defeats.
    But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shrugged off demands for his ouster.
    ‘‘Mr. Abe is headed toward doom,’’ said Shoichi Kijima, 60, a delivery truck driver. ‘‘The tide is turning.’’
    On Sunday, Kijima and others voted for the opposition, stripping the ruling party and its coalition partner of their majority in the 242-seat upper house of parliament. The defeat was one of the worst in five decades of almost continuous rule by the Liberal Democrats in Japan.
    The upset was fueled by voters angry about money scandals, ministers’ gaffes — including those perceived as insulting to women, the elderly and atomic bombing victims — and a fiasco centered around the loss by the government of 50 million people’s pension records.
    The Democratic Party, the top opposition group, became the No. 1 party in the upper house for the first time ever, although the Liberal Democrats still control the majority in the more powerful lower house, where seats were not up for grabs.
    Although calls for Abe’s resignation intensified, there is no clear way Abe can be kicked out against his will.
    The world of Japanese politics has long relied on backroom deals and consensus-building to get things done quietly and quickly. And, the upper house technically doesn’t choose the prime minister, a power reserved for the lower house.
    But pressures appeared to be closing in on 52-year-old Abe, who was heralded as a reformist when he took office last year with promises of making Japan more assertive on the international stage.
    Ichiro Ozawa, the Democrats’ leader, made clear the opposition would make Abe’s ouster a rallying cry.
    ‘‘I do not believe that such action that defies common sense and rules will receive the understanding of the people,’’ Ozawa said at a party meeting on nationally televised news.
    Minoru Morita, a politics expert who has written books about the Liberal Democrats, said Abe was making a grave error and was leading his party to an even more disastrous defeat in the next election.
    In the past, the Liberal Democrats revived their popularity by showing remorse following election defeats, especially through the symbolic resignation of the prime minister, he said.
    ‘‘Mr. Abe is being infantile,’’ Morita said in a telephone interview. ‘‘Never in the history of the Liberal Democratic Party has the prime minister refused to step down for a nationwide election defeat.’’
    Television news has repeatedly aired footage of Abe on the campaign trail, asking voters to show whom they prefer as prime minister, Ozawa or himself.
    ‘‘The question was asked of the voters to choose between the prime minister and Mr. Ozawa,’’ said former defense head and Liberal Democratic lawmaker Shigeru Ishiba, adding that Abe should accept the voters’ verdict.
    Former finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki also called on Abe to reconsider his decision.
    ‘‘The party cannot unite without remorse and reflection on why the voters have turned so much against us,’’ he said.
    But a nationwide telephone survey by Kyodo News was not as clear cut on whether Abe should resign, with 49.5 percent of the respondents saying Abe must leave, and 43.7 percent saying he should stay.
    Even if Abe is replaced, political turmoil is expected to continue.
    Besides badgering Abe to quit, the opposition has vowed to push for snap elections in the lower house.
    Abe reiterated his determination to hang on to his job.
    ‘‘I will be sorry about matters that I need to be sorry about,’’ he told reporters.

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