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Editorial: Low turnout for Saitama by-election sends warning signal to political parties

  • October 29, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:25 p.m.
  • English Press

As political parties could not make their presence felt by voters, the recent election brought about an unusually low voter turnout. This must be taken seriously.


In a by-election for the House of Councillors in Saitama Constituency, former Saitama Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda defeated Takashi Tachibana, head of NHK kara Kokumin o Mamoru To (Party to protect the people from NHK), winning an upper house election for the first time. The by-election was held following the resignation of a former upper house lawmaker, who was later elected Saitama governor.


Ueda had held the Saitama governorship for four terms, having worked on the fiscal reconstruction of the prefectural government and the prevention of crimes, among other issues. He could have been rated highly for having achieved certain results as governor.


In running for the by-election, Ueda said, “The Constitution should be amended in line with the times.” He should take part actively in the constitutional discussion in the Diet.


It is critical that the voter turnout was only 20.81 percent, the fourth lowest in postwar national elections. It has marked the first time in 20-plus years that the voter turnout dropped to only around 20 percent.


As the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and major opposition parties effectively supported Ueda, the election did not turn out to be one in which the ruling camp had a face-off with opposition parties. With policy struggles sluggish, it was undeniable that the election campaign ended up somewhat dull.


The LDP dealt with the race by allowing its members to vote as they pleased. As Ueda had high name recognition, there was said to be no candidate who could possibly beat Ueda.


Ueda’s term of office lasts until 2022. If the LDP backed up its own candidate and won the seat, he or she could compete with two incumbents of the ruling LDP and Komeito, respectively, in the upper house race in the same constituency three years from now. The LDP also intended to avoid such a scenario. Rather than advocating its policies in the election, the party may have prioritized its intraparty circumstances.


Such opposition parties as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan shelved their backing of Ueda, as he adopted the platform of running fully non-affiliated. The Communist Party, prioritizing the presentation of a united front with other opposition parties, had its members vote as they wished.


The Election Administration Commission of Saitama Prefecture called on those eligible to vote by making use of movies and other means featuring the prefecture, but such efforts hardly proved effective. The voter turnout may also have been affected by the fact that a number of early voting stations were temporarily closed due to the impact of the recent typhoon.


In recent years, voter turnout in elections has been on the decline. The voting rate in constituencies in the upper house election in July fell below 50 percent.


People’s apathy regarding politics is spreading, centering around youths. The fundamentals of representative democracy could be shaken, such as the idea of voters going to polling stations to choose those who would represent them.


Set up early polling stations at such places as universities and train stations to create an environment in which it is easier for people to vote and improve education to enhance young voters’ awareness. The central and local governments should make these steady efforts repeatedly.


Tachibana, who was elected to the upper house this summer in a proportional representation constituency, ran in the by-election and automatically lost his Diet seat. He reportedly intends to continue putting himself forward as a candidate for elections, including local ones, in the future.


Tachibana has conspicuously made remarks that have evoked criticism. As long as he employs such methods to attract people’s attention, wouldn’t it be difficult for his party to build up its strength?


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