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Opposition wins election in landslide

Japan's opposition Democratic Party won general elections yesterday in a landslide, ousting the long-ruling conservative party, according to media exit polls just after voting ended.
An exit poll by TV Asahi predicted the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) would take 315 seats in the 480-seat lower house, while Tokyo Broadcasting System forecast the centre-left opposition party would win 321 seats.
Public brodcaster NHK predicted the DPJ would win between 298 and 329 seats, against a range of just 84 to 131 seats for the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Prime Minister Taro Aso.
Nippon Television predicted a DPJ total of 324 seats against the LDP's 96.
"It's a landslide win. It's a dramatic election," Hiroshi Hoshi, a veteran journalist with the Asahi Shimbun daily, told TV Asahi.
The LDP – which has ruled Japan with only one 10-month break since 1955 – had 303 seats in the outgoing parliament to the DPJ's 112.
The election blowout by Japan's centre-left opposition was an epochal event in the country's post-war history but the inexperienced new government has no time to rest on its laurels.
The sweeping victory signaled for the untested DPJ over the ruling party, marks the dawn of a true two-party system after half a century of almost unbroken LDP rule.
DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama energised voters with his promise of "revolutionary change" – but now he must deliver as the country faces key challenges, from its deep economic malaise to a looming demographic timebomb.
"We are witnessing a sea change in post-war Japanese politics," said Hideo Otake, politics professor emeritus of Kyoto University.
Gerald Curtis, a veteran Japan watcher and professor of political science at Columbia University, agreed that "this is the end of a 50-year period in Japanese politics. This is not the LDP losing, it's collapsing."
"Monday morning a new era begins in Japanese politics and no-one can say with certainty how it's going to turn out."
Curtis said that "the biggest and most immediate challenge for the DPJ will be how they will organise themselves […] There is almost no-one in that party who has any experience in running a government."
The landmark win "is just the beginning of a bumpy road ahead for the DPJ", said Hiroshi Hirano, politics professor at Gakushuin University, pointing to Japan's economic woes, with unemployment at a post-war high of 5.7 percent.
"Japan needs major surgery to maintain its vigour, but the DPJ," said Waseda University professor of international relations and security Takehiko Yamamoto.
"The DPJ has to answer the question of fiscal debt," said Yamamoto, with Japan's huge public debt already at 170 percent of gross domestic product.
"If the party fails to find the financial resources for their populist pledges, Japan will face twin deficits – like the United States has suffered – in both its fiscal and trade accounts," he said.
"Then Japan will decline to be a second-class citizen in the world."
As they face their to-do list, the DPJ has no time to waste, said Curtis.
"They have a lot of reason to want to succeed," he said. "They have an upper house election next year."

Firefighters battle fierce California wildfires

Raging southern California wildfires showed no signs of abating early yesterday, injuring three people and prompting evacuation of 4,000 homes a day after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency.
The blazes, including some just a few miles north of sprawling Los Angeles, were still "out of control," according to fire officials, and by mid-afternoon had engulfed over 19,770 acres (8,000 hectares) of vegetation.
The flames, being fought by over 1,800 firefighters and fire planes dropping their loads of water, also threatened 10,000 other individual homes and nearly 2,500 other structures.
A thick plume of smoke had settled over Los Angeles.
Describing the fires' potential for spreading as "extreme," the US Forest Service said the blazes were being helped by high temperatures that are set to continue throughout the region for several days.
Only five percent of them were formally "under control," the authorities acknowledged.
The San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles has experienced record heat and low humidity, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the hottest locations, the National Weather Service said in its red flag warning for the region.
Schwarzenegger declared states of emergency in Los Angeles and Monterey counties on Friday in response to the wildfires.
A key factor in the fires' spread is that the areas most at risk are covered with vegetation that has not experienced fire for some four decades, making it even more susceptible to the blaze.
Wildfires have also scorched the northern portion of the state. Deputy Governor John Caramendi reported a major fire had broken out around Big Meadow, a region 236 miles (380 kilometers) east of San Francisco.
California is frequently hit by wildfires and in 2007 suffered the worst blazes in its history, which forced the evacuation of 640,000 residents and destroyed around 2,000 homes in southern California.