Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's coalition on Sunday suffered a crushing defeat, exit polls said, in an election that is likely to put pressure on the conservative leader to quit.
Exit polls said Abe's coalition was on course to lose half of the seats it was defending in the election for the upper house, which will come under opposition control. Official results were expected later.
Public broadcaster NHK projected that the Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition won anywhere between 31 and 43 seats out of the 76 it was defending.
Private broadcaster TBS put the coalition's win at 34 seats, while Nippon Television gave a figure of 38.
Abe, who has championed building a more assertive nation proud of its past, has come under fire over a raft of scandals including the government's mismanagement of the pension system.
It was the first time in nine years that the Liberal Democrats lost control of a house. The party has not lost a majority in either house since 1998 elections, but Sunday's defeat was on course to be even worse.
Yoshio Yatsu, LDP's committee chief for the elections, said Abe would consult with the party on the next move.
"The ballot counting has just started. We will never know until all the votes are counted," Yatsu said.
"We faced a hard battle in this election because of the scandals over the pension agency and political funds."
The defeat does not automatically oust Abe as his Liberal Democrat-led coalition enjoys a large majority in the more powerful lower house inherited from Junichiro Koizumi.
Prime ministers have traditionally quit to take responsibility for defeats in upper house polls, but Abe has no clear successor and his aides had insisted ahead of the vote that he would not consider resignation.
Nearly 105 million people are eligible to vote in the election for half the seats in the 242-member upper house of parliament.
"I said no to the Liberal Democratic Party. I said no to Abe," Keiko Yutani, a 60-year-old language teacher, said as she cast her ballot near Tokyo's giant Tsukiji fish market.
"I'm extremely angry at Abe's cabinet," Yutani said. "I can't leave my pension funds to them."
It was the first nationwide election for Abe, who at 52 is Japan's youngest premier in modern times.
Abe, also Japan's first leader born after World War II, has quickly got to work on ending legacies of the defeat, such as rewriting the US-imposed pacifist constitution.
But his popularity has nosedived in the 10 months since he took over from the popular Koizumi.
Two ministers have quit and another committed suicide after allegations of financial wrongdoing, fuelling perceptions the young premier lacks authority.
Abe was also forced to revamp his campaign to pledge to fix the pension system after a government agency's admission it bungled millions of payment records. The issue is particularly sensitive in Japan, one of the most rapidly ageing countries.
A resignation would raise fears of a return to instability in the world's second largest economy, where prime ministers would come and go nearly every year for more than a decade until Koizumi took charge in 2001.
Izuru Makihara, a professor of politics at Tohoku University, said Abe stumbled by trying to address the emotionally charged history issues close to his heart alongside bread-and-butter issues.
The end result was "a failure to convey a clear message to voters," he said.
Opposition parties have seized on Abe's woes to try to win over traditional supporters of the Liberal Democrats, who have not lost a majority in either house in nine years.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Temmuz 2007, 11:13