TOKYO – Voters handed a stinging defeat to Japan’s ruling party in weekend elections, rejecting a proposal to increase taxes and handicapping a fledgling government struggling to keep the world’s second-largest economy from financial meltdown.
Results compiled today in major newspapers showed Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s party fell far short of maintaining a majority in the upper house of parliament. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan won only 44 seats, far below Kan’s target of 54, while the opposition won 51 and gained control together with its coalition partners.
With public spending at more than double its GDP, Japan is trying to manage its ballooning debt while also addressing high unemployment and stagnant growth. Kan has warned the country could face a Greek-style meltdown if it does not get its finances in order – possibly by raising the sales tax.
But the grave losses indicate voters have rejected his solution, and will make it difficult for his government to effectively revive the economy.
Israel agrees to seek Egypt’s help
JERUSALEM – The prospect for resuming direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority appeared to gather at least a little traction Sunday, despite the opposition of Palestinian leaders to enter into negotiations until Israel freezes settlement construction in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would travel to Cairo this week to solicit help from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in persuading the Palestinian Authority to resume direct talks. The overture follows Netanyahu’s decision last week to accept President Barack Obama’s call to move from so-called proximity talks into face-to-face negotiations.