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Editorial: Tokyo assembly election results are major blow to embattled PM Suga

The results of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election held on July 4 made it clear that Tokyoites don’t trust and are dissatisfied with the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s wavering coronavirus response and its determination to hold the Olympics as scheduled, come hell or high water.


The national ruling coalition parties — Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and junior partner Komeito — failed together to win a majority in the Tokyo assembly. The result was especially harsh for the LDP — despite regaining its status as the single largest party in the chamber, it saw about half its candidates go down in defeat. The party now has its second lowest number of seats in the assembly ever.


The parties did not include anything in their assembly campaign promises about the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics issue, because of strong public sentiment against the games. Instead, they pushed the story that the prime minister was speeding up vaccinations, and clung to the position that there would be fans in the stands for the international sporting extravaganza.


However, the parties’ simple repetition of the slogan, “We will make a safe and secure games a reality” and complete failure to address public concerns over holding the Olympics mid-pandemic ran headlong into the popular will, which takes a far dimmer view of the situation. The chaos surrounding vaccinations also played into voter dissatisfaction.


Coronavirus infection figures are rising again, to the point that national Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said in the assembly campaign’s closing days that holding the games without spectators should be considered an option.


In contrast, the opposition Japanese Communist Party (JCP) — which advocates canceling the games — and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) — which wants to see the games postponed or canceled — both boosted their assembly seat counts. Combined, the two parties’ seats are about the same as the LDP’s.


The Tokyoites First Party, the regional party founded by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, called for “the games to be held without spectators at the very least.” It lost seats in the election, but has also won a certain level of backing from independents.


In short, the forces opposed to the central government’s insistence on holding the Olympics and Paralympics with fans in the stands captured a majority in the assembly on July 4.


At the previous assembly election, Gov. Koike led Tokyoites First to an overwhelming victory by setting herself in clear opposition to the chamber’s LDP faction. This time around, however, she went into the hospital with fatigue before the campaign’s launch, and was not active until its final phase. But, as the governor of the very city hosting the games, she put some distance between herself and the plans of the national government.


The Japanese national and Tokyo metro governments are in a position where they are expected to cooperate on Olympic matters and coronavirus infection prevention policy. Nevertheless, over the past year, the prime minister and Gov. Koike have spent much of their time conspicuously attempting to foist responsibility on each other. Both Koike and Suga should face the will of the people expressed in the recent vote.


The Suga administration has presided over a string of LDP defeats in elections for national and local office. The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election in particular is considered a bellwether for national elections, so its impact on the general election that must be called by autumn will be immense.


Prime Minister Suga must take the result to heart, and reconsider his hitherto self-righteous attitude on the Tokyo Games and the coronavirus pandemic.

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