Unseated Japan opposition leader Banri Kaieda to step down: reports

Japan's main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Banri Kaieda speaks during a news conference at the DPJ headquarters in Tokyo on Dec 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Banri Kaieda speaks during a news conference at the DPJ headquarters in Tokyo on Dec 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - The leader of Japan's largest opposition party will resign after losing his seat in a weekend election drubbing, reports and officials said Monday.

Banri Kaieda, who led the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to its third consecutive thrashing at the polls, was among the casualties on a dreary night for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's main opponents.

Abe's ruling coalition waltzed home with 326 seats - a two-thirds majority - while the DPJ managed 73, just 11 up on last time and a long way off the numbers that gave the party control of the house between 2009 and 2012.

"I deeply regret that we were not able to respond to the voices of people who hoped to reduce the number of seats for the ruling parties," Kaieda told broadcasters late Sunday.

While Abe billed the vote as a referendum on his economic management, which has seen the economy slip into recession despite a series of drastic measures, most commentators said there was no great love for the prime minister.

He benefited from a feeling among the public that there was no viable alternative, with voters deeply disillusioned by the DPJ's often chaotic three-year rule, they said.

The party, elected on a wave of optimism after more than half a century of almost unbroken rule by the LDP, governed haphazardly under three emasculated prime ministers.

Kaieda will likely announce his resignation as a party leader later Monday, reports said.

"We will deal with the issue after careful consideration," senior DPJ official Toshiyuki Kato told public broadcaster NHK on Monday, asked about the change of party leadership.

This weekend's election was characterised by a record-low turn out of around 52 percent. That is thought likely to have helped the LDP, whose core supporters are dependable voters.

While Abe's approval ratings remain solid at around 40 percent, there is disquiet over many of his policies, including his desire to restart nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster and his penchant for playing down Japanese war crimes.

The DPJ's signal failure to capitalise on these and other issues - which barely figured in the campaign - will be the cause of some soul searching, it said.

"We deeply apologise to our supporters," the DPJ said in a statement.

"The DPJ is still on its way to restoration and we will face a long uphill battle before receiving people's mandate. But we pledge we will come back in the next battle as a party that would be able to take a role in a two-party system," it said.