Japan’s LDP Battles to Avoid ‘Total Defeat’ in By-Elections; Opposition Party Guards against Overconfidence

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Left: Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, gives a campaign speech in Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, on Sunday.Right: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks in Okuizumo, Shimane Prefecture, on Sunday.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party candidate is falling behind his opponent in the House of Representatives by-election to be held for the Shimane No. 1 Constituency on Sunday, a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey has found.

The LDP is concentrating on defending the seat in the Shimane district, having decided not to field candidates in the two other constituencies to be contested in by-elections. Prime Minister and LDP President Fumio Kishida is working hard to avoid a comprehensive defeat in the by-elections, while the increasingly vigorous Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan – the leading opposition party –is wary of falling at the last hurdle.

“This election is testing us as to whether we’ll pass on the will and spirit of our predecessors,” Kishida said in a speech in Shimane Prefecture on Sunday in support of Norimasa Nishikori, the candidate endorsed by the LDP. Kishida mentioned the names of local politicians in his address, including former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki.

While traveling around the prefecture, Kishida made five unscheduled stops, taking the unusual action of getting out of his car to shake hands with local residents and have his picture taken.

The LDP decided not to field candidates in the Tokyo No. 15 and Nagasaki No. 3 constituencies. It is focusing instead on the Shimane No.1 district, where the party has never lost a seat since the 1996 lower house election, when the single-seat constituency system was introduced.

However, the party is facing strong headwinds, due mainly to the political fundraising scandal involving some of its factions. Kishida had to apologize in three speeches he made on the day.

“We’ve caused public distrust at this important time when these elections are held. I’d like to offer a sincere apology,” he said.

During interactions with local residents in Yasugi in the prefecture, one participant said: “As a party member, I’m full of shame because of the politics-and-money scandal. Shimane Prefecture is no longer the ‘kingdom of conservative forces.’”

The LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, which is also supporting Nishikori, sent its Electoral Policy Committee Chair Makoto Nishida to the prefecture on Sunday. However, party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi has no plan to visit during the campaign period. An LDP member said Komeito is apparently taking a cautious stance, concluding that the LDP candidate is at a disadvantage.

CDPJ: Overconfidence can be dangerous

In contrast, the CDPJ appears animated, as it could possibly win all three seats in the by-elections.

CDPJ chief Kenta Izumi was in the prefectural capital of Matsue on Sunday to support party candidate Akiko Kamei. “Komeito supporters and those who have supported the LDP, let’s stand up together. This is a major fight to reform politics,” he said in a speech.

Under Izumi’s leadership, CDPJ-endorsed candidates were defeated in all the by-elections for both the upper and lower houses in 2022 and 2023. If the party manages to win all the seats this time around, it will give the CDPJ a boost ahead of the next lower house election.

But party members are trying not to get ahead of themselves. “Our party tends to fall at the last hurdle, and the LDP is making serious last-ditch efforts. Overconfidence is dangerous all the way to the end,” a senior party member said.

Bracing for poor outcome

Prime Minister Kishida is set to seek reelection as LDP president in September, when his current tenure expires. To break the impasse, Kishida reportedly is considering dissolving the lower house before the end of the current Diet session in June.

If the LDP loses all the seats up for grabs in the Sunday by-elections, an increasing number of party members will inevitably be concerned about holding a lower house election with Kishida at the helm.

“If the party is seriously defeated in the by-elections, it will become difficult to dissolve the lower house,” a veteran lawmaker said.

However, there are no signs that moves to unseat Kishida would immediately gain momentum even if the outcome of by-elections is unfavorable. Many lawmakers who distance themselves from Kishida assume that the party presidential election will be the principal battlefield for determining the LDP’s leadership, and they will closely watch what happens with the Cabinet approval rating.

The key focus in the second half of the current Diet session will be amending the Political Funds Control Law to prevent the recurrence of political fundraising scandals.

A close aide to Kishida set a guard against attack regarding poor prospects of the by-elections. “Whatever the outcome of the by-elections, the prime minister has no choice but to do what he has to do, such as revising the Political Funds Control Law and wage hikes.”

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