Japanese PM Quits Party After Sweeping Rejection at Polls

Japan's prime minister is clearing the way for a new party, and a new leader, to set the nation's political agenda. The center-left opposition party that swept a nationwide legislative vote is now planning how to use its commanding majority to reshape politics in Japan.

Prime Minister Taro Aso exercised his only real option Monday after Sunday night's resounding rebuke at the polls. He says he accepts responsibility for the defeat, and is resigning as head of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Sunday's election gave the LDP 119 out of the 480 seats up for grabs in Japan's lower house, which selects the country's prime minister. The Democratic Party of Japan surged to a 308-seat majority, all but confirming party leader Yukio Hatoyama as the country's next leader.

Hatoyama says it has taken a long time, but the opposition has at last reached the starting line. At long last, he says, they are able to create a new kind of politics that will fulfill the expectations of the people.

Sunday's vote is viewed here not so much as an embrace of the DPJ, but as a rejection of the LDP. The conservative party has controlled Japan's legislature almost without interruption for 55 years. Many voters accuse the LDP of being out of touch, and of failing to manage Japan's worst recession since the Second World War.

Hatoyama and his DPJ have promised consumer-oriented assistance such as child-support payments to help families, and vow to overhaul structures that favor corporations.

In foreign policy, Hatoyama pledges tighter integration with East Asia.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young expressed Seoul's willingness to work with Mr. Hatoyama. He says South Korea places high value on the fact that Japan's Democratic Party has emphasized the importance of South Korea-Japan relations.

The DPJ is expected to maintain a firm policy line on North Korea, especially on the issues of the North's nuclear weapons programs and Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents.

A White House statement issued Sunday says Washington is confident that the United States' partnership with Japan "will continue to flourish."

Mr. Hatoyama has signaled he will seek to make the U.S. relationship less central to Japan's decision-making. Professor Gerald Curtis, a specialist in Japanese politics for decades at Columbia University, says some change is to be expected.

"This election was not only about changing the party in power. It also involves pretty substantial generational shift," said Curtis. "There are going to be a lot of young people in the government; they don't remember the war, they don't remember the occupation, they don't necessarily believe Japan needs to have a special relationship with the United States."

Hatoyama is expected to be formally elected prime minister in a special session of parliament, which must be held within 30 days.