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Outcome of Niigata gubernatorial race may affect LDP presidential election

  • May 16, 2018
  • , Yomiuri , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

Former Japan Coast Guard Vice Commandant Hideyo Hanazumi, 59, announced on May 15 his candidacy in the Niigata gubernatorial race, setting the stage for the election battle. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito are supporting him in their bid to recapture the prefectural administration.


This is also an election in which the ruling and opposition parties are expected to clash fiercely amid the situation where the Abe cabinet’s support ratings are sagging as a result of the Moritomo Gakuen affair and other scandals, so it is going to be a critical battle for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (LDP president), who is running for reelection for a third term in the party’s presidential race in September.


LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai praised Hanazumi profusely at a news conference on May 15. Hanazumi was his secretary when he was transport minister.


In the previous gubernatorial race in 2016, the LDP and Komeito’s candidate lost to Ryuichi Yoneyama, who was supported by the opposition. This time, since the election is being held after Yoneyama resigned over a sex scandal, a senior ruling party official voiced strong determination to “win by all means.”


The election is also taking place on June 10, which is 10 days before the Diet adjourns. Abe plans to announce his candidacy in the LDP election after the Diet closes, so he hopes for Hanazumi’s victory, which would add momentum to his own bid for reelection.


Many LDP members think that the outcome of the gubernatorial race will affect the LDP presidential election. Since Abe’s political comeback in 2014, he has won a total of five consecutive national elections, three House of Representatives elections and two House of Councillors elections. A senior LDP official observes: “If we can win the gubernatorial election even under the current adverse circumstances, more party members will think that they want to fight the Upper House election in summer 2019 under Mr. Abe.”


Former LDP Vice President Taku Yamasaki stated in a speech in Tokyo on May 15 that “this election is only next in importance to a national election.”


The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party, and Social Democratic Party (SDP) are all supporting prefectural assembly member Chikako Ikeda, 57, who is running as an independent. Opposition candidates have won in several national elections in Niigata in recent years. DPFP co-leader Kohei Otsuka says: “This election is also significant as a verdict on the Abe administration.” The opposition is trying to make this a tailwind for their criticism of the administration on the Moritomo scandal and other issues.


The SDP decided to support Ikeda at an executive meeting on May 15. The Diet Affairs Committee chiefs of the five parties met at the Diet on May 15 and agreed that all parties will campaign in Niigata to support Ikeda. The opposition parties also want to make this a test case for their cooperation in the Upper House election to be held in summer next year. (Slightly abridged)

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