Diet By-Elections: Results Must Be Taken as Warning to Kishida Administration

Even though they were by-elections, the results should be viewed as voters sending a warning about how Prime Minister Fumio Kishida runs his administration.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party won the by-election for Nagasaki Constituency No. 4 of the House of Representatives but lost the by-election for the Tokushima-Kochi Constituency in the House of Councillors. Both elections were one-on-one battles between the ruling and opposition parties.

In the Nagasaki Constituency No. 4 by-election, which was held following the death of an LDP lower house member, an LDP newcomer defeated a former Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lower house member in a close race. The fact that the election was a “mourning election” for the LDP can be said to have worked in its favor.

The upper house Tokushima-Kochi Constituency by-election was called following the resignation of a former LDP lawmaker because he had been accused of using violence against his secretary. An independent candidate supported by the CDPJ and other parties, including the Democratic Party for the People and the Japanese Communist Party, defeated a newcomer from the LDP. This demonstrated the results of a united front among opposition parties.

In the Tokushima-Kochi Constituency, which was created by integrating two neighboring prefectural constituencies since the 2016 upper house election, the LDP had won three consecutive elections in 2016, 2019 and 2022.

Even though the LDP’s scandal could be a reason for its failure this time, being defeated in a constituency with a strong conservative support base is a blow to the party. The outcome may have been affected by the slump in the Cabinet’s approval rating and the decline in the party’s organizational strength, including that of industry groups.

In recent years, the number of LDP members has hovered around 1.12 million. Although that figure is overwhelmingly higher than those of other parties, many members do not belong to any support groups, and some observers have said that the LDP cannot expect to attract as many votes as it enjoyed in the past.

There is a pressing need for the LDP to increase the number of the party’s local assembly members to broaden its support base and to rebuild its organization. If the prime minister accepts the “one-win, one-loss” result as it is, he may find himself in a difficult position in the next lower house election.

The LDP’s electoral struggles are not limited to the latest two by-elections.

In the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly by-election for the Tachikawa constituency held on Oct. 15, the LDP, the CDPJ and the Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites first group) fought for the two vacant seats, and the LDP lost. It is unusual for the largest party in national politics not to even “finish second.”

In Tokyo, relations between the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito have been shaky. The fact that Komeito allowed its members to vote freely in the Tachikawa by-election due to this friction is believed to be one of the reasons for the LDP’s defeat. For the next lower house election, the parties will likely be tested over whether they can reestablish election cooperation.

The Kishida Cabinet has demonstrated its position that it will tackle a variety of issues, such as strengthening Japan’s defense capabilities and addressing the declining birth rate. But although it is focusing on “communicating” its plans to the public, no strategies for achieving them have been seen.

The Cabinet’s slumping approval ratings will not recover unless policy priorities and measures to secure financial resources are clearly indicated and concrete results are produced.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 23, 2023)