LDP Looks to Weather Storm Amid Political Scandals

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The name plate of Anri Kawai is seen during the plenary session of the House of Councillors at the Diet on Wednesday afternoon.

A by-election triggered by the resignation on Wednesday of House of Councillors member Anri Kawai over a vote-buying scandal means there will now be three by-elections taking place on April 25.

The Liberal Democratic Party wants to protect its seat in Kawai’s Hiroshima prefectural constituency and make a clean break from the negativity surrounding the party over a series of “politics and money” scandals.

“After all the help I’ve received, I’m sorry,” Kawai said on Wednesday morning in a telephone conversation with a senior member of LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai’s faction, of which she remained a member even after leaving the party in June last year.

Nikai said in a statement: “It is truly regrettable that we have reached this point. We will work hard to restore trust.”

In the wake of Kawai’s resignation, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday, “I take seriously the widespread criticism toward politics among the people.”

In addition to the “politics and money” scandals, the government and ruling parties have faced pressure as criticism over the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic has not died down.

The LDP has suffered defeats in many local elections, and there is a growing sense of urgency within the party that the administration will struggle if the results in the April by-elections go against them.

The ruling parties have decided not to contest the lower house by-election in Hokkaido Constituency No. 2, following the resignation of former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa, who was indicted without detention on charges of bribery.

The situation in the upper house by-election in the Nagano prefectural constituency, for which the LDP has selected a candidate, is believed to be tough as the opposition parties have established a strong base.

On the other hand, the Hiroshima prefectural constituency is an LDP stronghold. Even if the party loses in Nagano, an LDP official said, “we can limit the damage” if the party wins in Hiroshima. However, there is also cause for concern in Hiroshima, as the vote-buying scandal has rocked the local political scene.

For the 2019 upper house election in the Hiroshima prefectural constituency, the LDP headquarters fielded Kawai in addition to the incumbent politician, despite opposition from the party’s prefectural chapter, aiming to take both seats up for grabs. Kawai was elected but the incumbent lost, triggering discontent in the chapter toward LDP headquarters that has yet to be resolved.

Hiroshima is a stronghold of the party faction led by former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, so the outcome of the by-election will affect Kishida’s influence within the party. “The prefectural chapter and party headquarters must work together as one as we face this by-election,” Kishida said on Wednesday.

The opposition parties are hoping to take advantage of the situation. They are aiming to unify their candidates in the three by-elections, giving momentum to a strategy of a coalition of opposition parties running in the next lower house election.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is considering fielding a candidate for the by-election in the Hiroshima prefectural constituency. For the Nagano by-election, it plans to field the younger brother of former Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Yuichiro Hata, who died in December. It also plans to field a former Diet member in the Hokkaido race.