Asia-Pacific

Japan PM rules out snap poll after election setback

Japanese PM Naoto Kan
Image caption Mr Kan's party fell well short of the seats it had hoped to win

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has ruled out calling a snap election following his party's poor performance in upper house polls.

Mr Kan, who has been in office for only a month, urged the Japanese public to give his administration a chance.

His party won just 44 seats - well short of its goal of 54.

The poll - which leaves the ruling Democratic Party of Japan without a majority in the upper house - was seen as a referendum on its 10-month rule.

A total of 121 seats, half of the upper house, were being contested in the polls.

The DPJ held 62 seats not being contested, and its 44 wins leave it short of the 122 majority needed.

Its tiny ally, the People's New Party, won no seats in Sunday's election.

The DPJ still has a majority in the more powerful lower house which it can use to force legislation through parliament, but its ability to govern effectively has been challenged.

Mr Kan has said he will not resign and late on Monday ruled out calling an early poll.

"Only about one month has passed since the launch of my administration and I want the chance to firmly manage this administration with the people of Japan watching," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

Financial fears

The DPJ came to power last August, ending half a century of dominance by its main rivals, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which won 51 seats.

Mr Kan succeeded Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned abruptly after only nine months in office amid funding scandals and a row over an American military base.

The upper house election campaign was dominated by the prime minister's suggestion that Japan needed to discuss the possibility of an increase in sales tax - an issue that has divided voters.

Sales tax currently stands at 5%, but Mr Kan had suggested raising this as high as 10%.

Mr Kan said the country had to make sure it avoided financial collapse.

"Japan's economy is 20 to 30 times bigger than that of Greece and its public debt is huge, so no country in the world could rescue Japan," he said on Friday.

Japan has been borrowing money for two decades, trying to bring its economy out of stagnation.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo says that what was at stake was whether the prime minister would be able to build a stable political base to tackle the massive national debt.

Our correspondent says Mr Kan must now look for allies among smaller parties and the result could leave the prime minister vulnerable to leadership challenges from within his own party.

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