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Japan's Abe refuses to step down after election defeat

A day after a devastating election defeat in Japan's parliament, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected calls for his resignation on Monday, saying the country couldn't afford the resulting "power vacuum."

A day after a devastating election defeat in Japan's parliament, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected calls for his resignation on Monday, saying the country couldn't afford the resulting "political vacuum."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking at his press conference Monday a day after his Liberal Democratic Party suffered a big loss in Japan's parliament, said it is his 'duty to fully achieve economic recovery.' ((Junji Kurokawa/Associated Press))

In a vote for half of the seats in the upper house of parliament, voters voiced their outrage over a series of political scandals and the loss of millions of pension records, stripping Abe's Liberal Democratic Party of its majority in the 242-seat body.

Abe, regardless, said he wasn't giving up his post.

"I cannot walk away even though the situation is extremely difficult. I decided (to stay) because we cannot afford to create a political vacuum," Abe said. "My responsibility is to fulfil the duty to fully achieve economic recovery."

The leader also shot down suggestions that he should call snap elections in parliament's lower house — where his party has firm control — to re-establish his political mandate. Instead, he announced plans to shuffle his cabinet and the party leadership, possibly as early as September.

"Voters said we must reflect on our shortcomings and refresh the lineup," Abe said. "I plan to reshuffle the cabinet and top party posts at an appropriate time."

The LDP remains in control of the lower house and thus still controls the government, but Sunday's defeat was a clear sign of Abe's tumbling fortunes and a dramatic reversal of the stellar support he enjoyed when he took office less than a year ago.

By Monday morning, newspaper editorials were urging Abe to resign.

"Voters gave a clear failing mark," the Asahi newspaper said. "The prime minister should face the results seriously and step down."

PM promised a 'beautiful Japan'

The Tokyo and Mainichi newspapers called on Abe to disband parliament's lower house for snap elections that could put a new premier in office.

"You have yet to be baptized in a general election," the Tokyo Newspaper said in an editorial addressed to the beleaguered prime minister. "We call for an election to be held promptly to give voters the opportunity to make their choice."

Official election results showed the LDP and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito, with a total of 103 seats — a 30-seat loss that left it far short of the 122 needed to control the house. The main opposition Democratic Party grabbed 112 seats, up from 81.

Abe, 52, promised to build a "beautiful Japan" when he became the nation's youngest-ever prime minister in September, and he won points for mending strained diplomatic ties with South Korea and China.

But his honeymoon was short-lived.

In the first of a series of scandals, Administrative Reform Minister Genichiro Sata stepped down in December over charges of misusing political funds. In May, Abe's agriculture minister killed himself amid allegations he also misused public money. The new agriculture minister became embroiled in another funds scandal.

Perhaps most infuriating for voters, Abe brushed off warnings by the opposition late last year that pension records had been lost. That inaction came back to haunt him in the spring, when the full scope of the records losses emerged. Some 50 million claims had been wiped out.

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