Japan's ruling party conceded a crushing defeat Sunday after 54 years of nearly unbroken rule as voters were poised to hand the opposition a landslide victory in nationwide elections, driven by economic anxiety and a powerful desire for change. The left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan was set to win 300 or more of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament, ousting the Liberal Democrats, who have governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, according to exit polls by all major Japanese TV networks.
"These results are very severe," Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a news conference at party headquarters, conceding his party was headed for a big loss. "There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party." Aso said he would have to accept responsibility for the results, suggesting that he would resign as party president. Other LDP leaders also said they would step down, though official results were not to be released until early Monday morning.
The loss by the Liberal Democrats – traditionally a pro-business, conservative party – would open the way for the Democratic Party, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, to replace Aso and establish a new Cabinet, possibly within the next few weeks. The vote was seen as a barometer of frustrations over Japan's worst economic slump since World War II and a loss of confidence in the ruling Liberal Democrats' ability to tackle tough problems such as the rising national debt and rapidly aging population. The Democrats have embraced a more populist platform, promising handouts for families with children and farmers, a higher minimum wage, and to rebuild the economy.