By-election defeat deals blow to Kishida in 1st test as prime minister

The defeat dealt a crushing blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in his first election battle since taking office. It could affect the strategies of the ruling and opposition parties for the House of Representatives election that is just a week away.

In by-elections for the House of Councillors, the Liberal Democratic Party won in the Yamaguchi constituency and lost in Shizuoka.

These by-elections were the first national vote since Kishida launched his Cabinet, drawing attention as a prelude to the lower house election. Both by-elections followed LDP members resigning as upper house members. Losing a seat in the chamber has a great impact on the ruling coalition.

In the Yamaguchi by-election — which was held because former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi left the upper house to run for the upcoming lower house election — a former upper house member of the LDP kept the seat by defeating contenders including a never-before-elected candidate from the Japanese Communist Party.

In cooperation with Hayashi and other candidates for the lower house election, the LDP firmly cemented conservative support. As the by-elections and the lower house election are effectively simultaneous, the party apparently was able to demonstrate its organizational power.

The Shizuoka by-election followed the resignation of an LDP upper house member who stood for the Shizuoka gubernatorial election in June. A never-before-elected independent candidate supported by the opposition parties defeated an LDP member and a JCP member who also were never elected.

The candidate backed by the opposition parties — the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People — received full support from Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu, who has advocated a “prefectural party of the people.” The momentum from his overwhelming victory in the governor’s race was carried over to the by-election.

The LDP waged an all-out battle with high-profile party executives, including party President Kishida, visiting Shizuoka Prefecture to directly support its candidate’s campaign, but it still failed to secure a victory.

Kawakatsu and others sought to make the construction of the maglev Chuo Shinkansen line an issue in the by-election. This also appears to have worked against the LDP.

The Shizuoka prefectural government has not approved the start of full-scale construction on a segment in the prefecture, citing concerns that the tunnel construction could reduce the water volume of the Oi River.

The concerns of residents are understandable, but the maglev train development is an issue that the central and prefectural governments and Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) should discuss calmly in order to seek a solution based on scientific viewpoints. Questions have been raised over the governor’s attitude of turning the issue into a confrontation between the central government and residents of the prefecture.

The focus of the lower house election next week will be on whether the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito can win the public mandate or whether the opposition side centered on the CDPJ can attract voters’ hopes for a change of government.

The loss in the Shizuoka by-election can be interpreted as public frustration toward current politics. To build a stable government, it is important for the ruling parties to hold a sense of crisis and steadily emphasize their policies to the people.

Even though the CDPJ and the DPFP fought against the JCP in the Shizuoka by-election, the opposition parties have been united against the ruling camp in the forthcoming lower house election.

It is difficult for voters to understand why the opposition parties unite for some elections while their basic principles and policies remain different. If the opposition parties aim for a change of government, they should also specify how they should cooperate in elections.