'Major win' for Japan opposition (August 30, 2009 - BBC)
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is set for a massive election victory, exit polls suggest.
The DPJ has won 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house, ending 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), NHK TV says.
The DPJ says it will shift the focus of government from supporting corporations to helping consumers and workers.
Prime Minister Taro Aso has said he will resign as head of the LDP, taking responsibility for the defeat.
Japan is suffering record unemployment and its economy is struggling to emerge from a bruising recession.
Analysts say voters blame the conservative LDP for the current economic malaise - and are angry enough to opt for change.
The exit polls suggest a stunning reversal of fortune for Japan's political parties, reducing the LDP to a rump in parliament, correspondents say.
Mr Aso's party has governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955.
Official results are expected early on Monday, but a senior LDP official acknowledged that the party was heading for a "historic defeat".
"The predictions by the media were shocking. We had doubts, but now I think they are becoming a reality," Yoshihide Suga, deputy chairman of the LDP's election strategy council, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
The DPJ leader, Yukio Hatoyama, has promised to boost welfare, reform the bureaucracy, and seek a more balanced relationship with the United States.
Mr Hatoyama is the wealthy grandson of the founder of Bridgestone tyres, whose other grandfather was a former LDP prime minister.
Turnout in Sunday's election was reportedly just under 50%, slightly down from 2005 when elections saw the charismatic Junichiro Koizumi's LDP elected with a significant majority.
Japanese broadcaster NHK announced its exit polls moments after voting ended at 2000 (1100 GMT), saying they showed a major power shift in Japan.
"Our exit polls show the main opposition Democratic Party will seize more than 300 seats, way more than a majority in the lower house," said the newsreader.
"That signals a defeat for the governing coalition."
The LDP had 303 seats in the outgoing parliament, compared to the DPJ's 112. The projections were based on exit polls of roughly 400,000 voters.
If the DPJ were to gain such a landslide majority, it could establish a new cabinet within the next few weeks.
As voting closed on Sunday night, officials said turnout had been high, despite a combination of typhoon-triggered rainfall around Tokyo and a government warning that a swine flu epidemic was under way.
The DPJ already controls Japan's upper house with the support of smaller parties including the Social Democrats.
It won control of the house in July 2007, amid voters' anger at a series of scandals and the loss of millions of pension payment records.
Correspondents say voters' desire for change after so many years under the LDP was a crucial factor.
Tokyo University political science professor Takashi Mikuriya told Japanese media the election was "more about emotions than policies".
Japan opposition heading for historic election victory (August 30, 2009 - The Guardian - Justin McCurry)
Victory for Democratic Party of Japan would see Yukio Hatoyama leading first government for 15 years not led by Liberal Democratic party
Japan's main opposition party is heading for a historic victory in today's general election, with early polls suggesting voters have dealt a devastating blow to the ruling party amid the country's worst recession since the war.
An exit poll by the private broadcaster TV Asahi forecast that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) would win 315 seats in the 480-seat lower house, a huge improvement on its current 115 seats.
Victory for the DPJ would see its president, Yukio Hatoyama, installed as leader of the first government not led by the Liberal Democratic party (LDP) for 15 years and only the second for more than half a century.
Early estimates showed turnout was high, but hopes that it could exceed 70% may have been dashed by strong winds and heavy rain brought by an approaching typhoon.
The Asahi exit poll was roughly in line with recent opinion polls showing the LDP's strength in the lower house slashed from 300 seats to as few as 100.
The election has proved disastrous for the prime minister, Taro Aso, whose year in office has been bedevilled by gaffes and sleaze, as well as coinciding with Japan's deepest recession since the second world war.
While Hatoyama represents a shot in the dark, he has captured the public imagination with promises of higher welfare spending, the introduction of a minimum wage and child allowance, and a more equal relationship with Japan's main ally, the US.
"The ruling party has betrayed the people over the past four years, driving the economy to the edge of a cliff, building up more than 6 trillion yen (£39.4bn) in public debt, wasting money, ruining our social security net and widening the gap between the rich and poor," the DPJ said in a statement today. "We will change Japan."
Even voters who remain wary of the DPJ's spending promises said they were prepared to vote for the party.
"We don't know if the Democrats can really make a difference, but we want to give them a chance," Junko Shinoda, a civil servant, told the Associated Press after casting her vote in Tokyo.
Newspaper editorials agreed that Hatoyama's first task must be to steer Japan towards sustained economic recovery.
"Whoever wins the election on Sunday, we want to ask the next administration to swiftly deal with concerns about unemployment uncertainty and deflation, which are deepening simultaneously," the Nikkei business paper said.
So fellow ontd_p, who live in Japan, what do you guys think of this? *trying to get views from people who live there...not that I live there.*
Mod's can we add back the Japan tag?