Ruling, Opposition Blocs Look to Build Momentum for By-Elections

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A candidate shakes hands with a supporter during an election campaign in Oita Prefecture on Thursday.

The ruling and opposition parties have begun ramping up efforts to build momentum for the five by-elections to be held on April 23 — widely seen as a midterm evaluation of the administration led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Ahead of that vote, official campaigning began Thursday in the first half of the unified local elections to elect nine prefectural government leaders on April 9.

The Liberal Democratic Party is hopeful that party head Kishida’s recent diplomatic efforts — including a surprise visit to Ukraine and a summit meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol — will provide a tailwind in election campaigns.

At a meeting on Thursday, LDP Election Strategy Committee Chairperson Hiroshi Moriyama praised the prime minister’s visit to Ukraine, saying, “He played an important role as the prime minister of the country [currently] chairing the Group of Seven.

“The unified local election campaign has begun, and we’ll do everything we can to win,” Moriyama added.

The government, which is keen to boost domestic support, on Wednesday unveiled a package of measures worth more than ¥2 trillion to tackle inflation. The government was also poised to announce Friday its outline for “unprecedented measures to deal with the declining birth rate.”

The lower house term will reach its midway point in October, with two years remaining. Kishida, who hopes to do well in the upcoming elections and successfully oversee the G7 summit meeting to be held in Hiroshima in May, is keen to break out of the situation in which his Cabinet’s approval rating continues to hover in the 40% range.

“If the approval rating recovers after the summit meeting, it’ll create an environment for the prime minister to seek an appropriate time to dissolve the House of Representatives,” an LDP senior official said.

For its part, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has positioned the upcoming unified local elections as “elections that will determine the future of the party.” In order to strengthen its clout, the party will be going all-out to swell the ranks of its about 1,250 local lawmakers.

On Thursday, CDPJ leader Kenta Izumi gave a stump speech in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, where the by-election for Chiba Constituency No. 5 will be held. “In the unified local elections, I want to stress the importance of revitalizing local economies.” he said. “We intend to create councils that will reflect the voices of even small numbers of people in need.”

Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), which currently has 450 local lawmakers, has set a goal of boosting that number to more than 600. Ishin leader Nobuyuki Baba has said he will resign as representative if the party fails to achieve this target.

Komeito, meanwhile, has issued a decree saying it is imperative that all 1,555 candidates the party is fielding in the local elections — including those for city, ward, town and village councils — are elected. At a meeting of the party’s executives on Thursday, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said, “We’ll fight to get all Komeito candidates elected.”

The Japanese Communist Party aims to retain the about 1,200 seats it won in the last elections, while the Democratic Party for the People is set on doubling its figure of about 200 local lawmakers.