3 Japan By-Elections Set to Start amid Fund Scandal

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at the Prime Minister’s Office on April 3, 2024.

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—Three Japanese parliamentary by-elections will formally kick off soon, giving voters an opportunity to evaluate the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida regarding its response to a high-profile fund scandal at the nation’s ruling party.

The official campaign period is set to start Tuesday for the April 28 by-elections for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, Japan’s parliament.

“I will demonstrate my ability to deal with challenges such as regaining public trust in politics and responding to economic issues and earthquakes,” Kishida told reporters during a visit to the southern U.S. state of North Carolina on Friday local time.

With Kishida’s term of office as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party scheduled to end in September, the results of the elections are expected to influence the fate of the administration.

In the face of a public backlash against the slush funds scandal involving some LDP factions, the party, in a rare move, has opted not to field its candidates in two of the three elections—one in the No. 15 constituency in Tokyo and the other in the No. 3 constituency in the southwestern prefecture of Nagasaki.

The elections in Tokyo and Nagasaki come after the resignations of former LDP lawmakers over money issues.

The remaining election, in the No. 1 constituency in Shimane Prefecture, western Japan, follows the death of former Lower House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda.

The issue of money and politics is expected to be highlighted in the Shimane election as well because Hosoda was head of an LDP faction at the center of the slush funds scandal. The faction was previously led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In the scandal, part of revenues from fundraising parties held by LDP factions was distributed to member lawmakers of the factions. Such kickbacks were not reported in political funds statements and was thus turned into slush funds.

Hosoda was also suspected to have had relations with the controversial religious group Unification Church, formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Of the three races, the election in Shimane, a conservative stronghold, is only set to see a direct battle between ruling bloc and opposition candidates.

Specifically, the Shimane election will effectively be a one-on-one battle between former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Norimasa Nishikori, to be fielded by the LDP and recommended by its coalition partner, Komeito, and former Lower House member Akiko Kamei, who will run on a ticket of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

Kishida is expected to visit Shimane on April 21 to rally support for Nishikori. Senior officials of the CDP are also seen visiting the prefecture to campaign for Kamei.

In the Tokyo and Nagasaki races, opposition parties are expected vie for votes of people critical of the Kishida administration, setting their eyes on the next general election for the Lower House.

In the Tokyo No. 15 constituency, the CDP is poised to put up Natsumi Sakai, a former member of the assembly of Koto Ward in Tokyo. The Japanese Communist Party has decided not to field its candidate and instead will support the CDP candidate.

Former corporate worker Yui Kanazawa will run in the Tokyo election from Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).

Author Hirotada Ototake, who will run as an independent, will be recommended by First no Kai, a political organization with close links with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

The LDP initially considered recommending Ototake. But it gave up the plan later as Ototake sounded negative about receiving recommendation from the party.

The Democratic Party for the People will recommend Ototake in the Tokyo race.

CDP Leader Kenta Izumi told reporters Saturday, “We are in a battle in which we should say yes or no to the (LDP’s) slush funds issue.”

Izumi also said that it is unclear whether the Ototake camp is critical of the LDP or ready to work with the ruling party.

The CDP and Nippon Ishin, which aims to overtake the CDP as the nation’s biggest opposition party, are expected to clash in the Nagasaki No. 3 constituency.

Incumbent Lower House member Katsuhiko Yamada, who has been elected to the chamber under the proportional representation system, is set to join the Nagasaki by-election on a CDP ticket.

Nippon Ishin will put up Shoichiro Inoue, who runs a cram school, in the election.