LDP’s triple loss in by-elections is a long-term concern for Suga

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Sunday’s triple victory for opposition-backed candidates in the Hokkaido, Nagano and Hiroshima by-elections had been predicted by local media before the polls closed and may have little immediate impact on the national political landscape.

But the loss of Hiroshima in particular could create problems for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the ruling parties in the weeks to come, as they seek to increase their popularity ahead of the general election, which is due before October.

“Regarding yesterday’s election, I humbly accept the judgment of the voters,” Suga said Monday morning.

In the race for the Hiroshima Upper House, Haruko Miyaguchi, a 45-year-old former broadcaster backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the People’s Democratic Party (DPP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) , beat Hidenori Nishita, a 39-year-old former Commerce Ministry official backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and backed by Komeito. She obtained 370,860 votes against 336,924 votes for Nishita.

The Hiroshima by-election came about because Anri Kawai lost her seat after being found guilty of vote buying in the 2019 upper house election. She was arrested in June 2020, convicted in January and resigned in February. The scandal rocked the politics of Hiroshima, and in an exit poll on Sunday by Kyodo News, 38% of respondents said money in politics was the issue they were most concerned about.

Over 90 percent of voters affiliated with CDP and DPP voters and over 80 percent of Japanese Communist Party members opted for Miyaguchi, while 73 percent of unaffiliated voters also supported her. Among LDP and Komeito voters, 69 percent and 75 percent, respectively, voted for Nishita, but he won only 17 percent of unaffiliated voters. Local media polls last week showed Miyaguchi had a slight lead over Nishita.

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Despite the loss, experts do not see Suga resigning or any immediate impact on the political situation as a whole.

“In the short term, the influence of the (Hiroshima) loss will likely be small. Although the election was a hot topic in Hiroshima, people across the country are more interested in COVID-19 countermeasures, ”said Masato Kamikubo, professor of Japanese politics at Ritsumeikan University.

But in the longer term, that could be a different story, he added. This is due to lingering questions about the vote-buying scandal involving Kawai, issues that opposition parties, spurred on by their victory in Hiroshima, and the media may pursue in the months to come.

“The scandal involving Kawai is serious and the Japanese media continue to focus on it. Anri was close to Suga, who took the lead in helping him win the seat of the Upper House in 2019, ”Kamikubo said. “There is still information about the scandal, so there is a possibility that it could erupt further and become a very big problem right before the LDP presidential election in September.”

But while the effect on Suga may be delayed, Sunday’s result is a bitter disappointment and political setback for Fumio Kishida, the chairman of the LDP section in Hiroshima and former LDP policy chief and foreign minister. . Kishida, who lost to Suga in last year’s LDP presidential election, likely hurt his chances of running again.

Kishida also currently heads the Kochikai faction of the 47 LDP Diet members and was in merger talks with other intra-party groups last year. Political reporter Tetsuo Suzuki said that with the loss of Hiroshima, some changes may be in sight.

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“The president of the Kishida faction, who is Kishida himself, can resign. But I don’t think the faction will be disbanded. Suzuki said, explaining that it is a traditional LDP faction that has had other leaders in the past and is therefore likely to survive beyond Kishida.

Haruko Miyaguchi, a former broadcaster backed by three opposition parties, addresses his supporters after winning a seat in the Upper House in a by-election Sunday in Hiroshima. | KYODO

Sunday’s other two by-elections were also won by opposition candidates. But the LDP and Komeito only supported one candidate in Nagano’s race for a seat in the Upper House. The winner was Jiro Hata, 51, who had the backing of the CDP and the backing of the other major opposition parties. Hata is the younger brother of Yuichiro Hata, the CDP holder who died in December from COVID-19, thus forcing an election.

He won against LDP and Komeito-backed Yutaka Komatsu, 59, in a race he had been widely predicted to win due to sympathy for his brother and the fact that Nagano is known as the “Hata Kingdom” – he was represented by only Jiro and Yuichiro, as well as their father, the late Tsutomu Hata.

A former member of the LDP, the elder Hata left the party in 1993 and served as prime minister for two months in 1994 as a member of the Shinseito party.

The third by-election, in Hokkaido Constituency No.2, which includes parts of Sapporo, was a lower house contest held after former LDP member and agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa was forced to to resign. He was charged with accepting bribes from an egg production company while he was minister of agriculture.

The LDP, determining that it had no chance of winning due to the scandal, did not field a candidate. The election was won by Kenko Matsuki, a 62-year-old former lawmaker backed by the main opposition parties, including the CDP, DPP and SDP.

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“These were the first national elections since the inauguration of the Suga administration last September, and voters have delivered a serious verdict,” CDP secretary general Tetsuro Fukuyama said in a statement after the victories of Sunday. “The CDP is determined to work with the people to strengthen cooperation with other opposition parties, with the aim of achieving a peaceful transition of power in the upcoming general elections.”

This could prove difficult, however. The turnout was the lowest on record for Nagano and Hokkaido, with 44.40% and 30.46% respectively, while in Hiroshima it was 33.61%, the second lowest on record. A general election with higher turnout may or may not favor opposition candidates.

Kamikubo said cooperation between opposition parties, although successful on Sunday, could be more difficult in the general election.

“The unique electoral characteristics of this race allowed the opposition parties to win. There was the scandal in Hiroshima which favored the opposition. Nagano has long been the “kingdom of Hata”, not the kingdom of the opposition party. In Hokkaido, it’s a kingdom (CDP) and the liberal camp is quite strong there, ”he said.

“The Nagano and Hokkaido elections are special because the opposition camps in both places are exceptionally strong. In these areas, especially Hokkaido, the CDP and the Japanese Communist Party also have a history of cooperation. But cooperation in these districts does not strongly influence regions elsewhere. “

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