Defeats in two House of Representatives by-elections came as setbacks to the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. In preparation for this summer’s House of Councillors elections, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will have to tighten his grip on his administration, which has been criticized for being slack.
This was the first time that LDP-fielded candidates have lost in a national by-election since the second Abe Cabinet was inaugurated in 2012.
In the by-election for Osaka Constituency No. 12, which was held in the wake of the death of an LDP lawmaker, a rookie candidate of Nippon Ishin no Kai emerged victorious in the contest among four candidates. Ishin no Kai has seemingly kept the momentum it gained from its victory in the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections held earlier this month as part of the first half of unified local elections.
The LDP had fielded a relative of the late lawmaker as its candidate but failed to retain the seat. As some LDP supporters voted for other candidates, the local organization’s unity remains in problematic shape. The LDP’s candidate received support from its coalition partner Komeito, which has a strong support base in the Kansai region, but this couldn’t deliver victory.
The by-election for Okinawa Constituency No. 3 was held to fill the seat vacated by Denny Tamaki to become governor of Okinawa. The constituency includes the city of Nago where the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station will be relocated. A newcomer who ran as an independent, opposition-affiliated candidate and who was supported by Tamaki in advocating opposition to the relocation, defeated the LDP’s candidate.
The election result underscores the deep-seated opposition to the relocation plan, but the relocation to the Henoko district of Nago is the only realistic option to maintain deterrence while eliminating the danger posed by the Futenma air base.
The government must carry out its national security policy responsibly to protect the people’s lives and property, while taking into account international affairs and other factors. It needs to continue to persistently make its case for the significance and importance of the relocation.
Sincerely implement policies
The results of the two by-elections held amid situations disadvantageous to the LDP will not necessarily lead directly to determining the course of the upper house elections. Nevertheless, it is true that voters are casting a critical eye over the resignation of a cabinet minister and a vice minister in the aftermath of their gaffes.
Election results of constituencies with one seat up for grabs, which hold the key to the upcoming upper house election, will change significantly depending on the trend of public opinion.
The LDP has won national elections five straight times, but there is the aspect that this was assisted by the further fragmentation of opposition parties. The Abe Cabinet has maintained a certain level of popular support but will be forced to fight an uphill battle in the upper house poll unless it eliminates its slackness and arrogance.
The prime minister will be tested on whether he will be able to sincerely implement policies.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People could not field their candidates for Osaka Constituency No. 12, so members were allowed to vote as they wished. In Okinawa Constituency No. 3, two opposition parties could join hands under the slogan of opposing the Henoko relocation plan, but this method will not work in other constituencies.
Will the opposition camp be able to create a unified front for the upper house elections to rival the LDP’s dominance? As things stand now, such a possibility is very low. The opposition parties should put forth realistic policies to obtain support from a wide spectrum of people without sticking to merely criticizing the government.