Neck and Neck / Former comrades in fierce contest

The Yomiuri Shimbun
JR Kichijoji Station

This is the second installment in a series that looks into constituencies where candidates are facing close battles.

Two former comrades who now stand on opposite sides of the political divide are currently engaged in heated election campaigns in the Tokyo Constituency No. 18.

Akihisa Nagashima, who was elected in the Tokyo Constituency No. 21 in the previous House of Representatives election in 2017 as an opposition candidate, is now a Liberal Democratic Party candidate in the No. 18 constituency that covers the cities of Musashino, Fuchu and Koganei in Tokyo.

One of his opponents is former Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. The two candidates worked together when they were representatives of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan.

Nagashima called Kan on Oct. 12, the day after the LDP announced a list of candidate endorsements for the election that included Nagashima’s name.

“I would like to meet you in person,” Nagashima said, apparently hoping to make amends. “It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?” Kan reportedly replied.

On Oct. 18, the day before the official election campaign period started, the local junior chamber in the constituency held an online debate among the candidates.

“Why did you move to No. 18, abandoning the voters of No. 21 who had supported you for nearly 20 years?” Kan asked Nagashima.

“I want to pursue realistic policies in diplomacy and national security [in the LDP],” Nagashima said. “I have to take criticism in my stride.”

Kan continued the barrage, saying, “It’s an affront to the voters.”

Nagashima replied: “It’s not as if I threw it away nonchalantly. It was really a heartbreaking decision. We shed tears and said goodbye to each other.”

In addition to the accusations hurled at Nagashima, Kan also ignored the facilitator at one point during the debate.

“You are totally ignoring the rules. Please take it easy,” Nagashima said to Kan.

Nagashima has been elected to the lower house six times since 2003.

Under the current electoral system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation blocks, Nagashima has lost twice in the No. 21 constituency but was elected by proportional representation.

Part of the No. 21 constituency included Kan’s previous constituency in the era of the multiple-seat constituency system, and Kan and his wife Nobuko once introduced their supporters to Nagashima.

When Nagashima was a member of the DPJ, he belonged to Kan’s faction for a period and served as parliamentary vice-minister of the Defense Ministry in the Kan administration.

The relationship between the two changed dramatically in April 2017 when Nagashima submitted his resignation to the Democratic Party, the successor to the DPJ.

His departure was prompted by his increasing distrust of the DP’s ties with the Japanese Communist Party, which has called for the scrapping of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

Nagashima joined Kibo no To (Party of Hope) in September 2017, and after serving as an independent, he joined the LDP in June 2019.

However, there is an incumbent LDP candidate in the No. 21 constituency, so Nagashima switched constituencies.

“The parliamentary debate on national security is a parade of empty rhetoric,” Nagashima said on Tuesday morning at the Okunitama Shrine in Fuchu in front of about 200 people at his campaign kickoff event. “I’m really sick of listening to the opposition parties.”

The constituency includes the Kichijoji district, which is popular among young people. Although Nagashima specializes in diplomacy and security, he also appealed for measures to counter the declining birthrate and policies for the younger generation.

About two hours later, Kan stood at the same shrine and criticized the government’s measures against the novel coronavirus and called for a change of government. “The LDP administration has been slow to implement measures that consider worst-case scenarios,” Kan said.

Kan’s wife Nobuko also addressed the crowd, saying, “In this election, our opponent is very difficult to deal with.”

Nobuko has told people around her that Nagashima’s election challenge feels like a betrayal.

After the introduction of the current combined electoral system in 1996, Kan won five consecutive victories in the No. 18 constituency until 2009, establishing the so-called “Kan Kingdom.”

After the DPJ was unseated by the LDP, Kan lost two consecutive elections in the single-seat constituency in 2012 and 2014 but was elected by proportional representation.

Kan won by about 1,000 votes in the last election in 2017.

According to a source close to the CDPJ, part of the reason for Kan’s struggle in elections was that he was seen as a “symbol of the failure of the DPJ administration.”

Kan, who believes that the LDP is desperate to drag him down, is thought to be worried about his chances in the election.

In the summer of last year, he began giving speeches on the street and has been actively posting messages on Twitter with a hashtag that means “former prime minister you can see.”

Although his strength has waned, Kan will be a difficult opponent for Nagashima, who is standing in the constituency for the first time.

Nagashima has received help from Masatada Tsuchiya, who ran as an LDP candidate in the No. 18 constituency in the last election and was narrowly defeated by Kan. Tsuchiya, who served six terms as mayor of Musashino and three terms as a lower house member, is influential in the constituency.

Nagashima delivered campaign speeches in support of Tsuchiya’s eldest daughter, Yuko, who ran unsuccessfully for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in July. At the same time, Nagashima tried to raise his own profile in the constituency.

In a campaign speech on Thursday, Nagashima expressed again his strong determination for victory. “Even in the Sengoku [warring] period, there were people who changed faction,” Nagashima said. “I came to this constituency for the sake of the public, not myself.”