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Editorial: By-election loss for LDP hints at struggles to come for Japan PM Kishida

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has sustained one victory and one loss in two House of Councillors by-elections billed as preliminary skirmishes for the House of Representatives election on Oct. 31. The loss in his first round of electoral contests as the newly-appointed prime minister is a painful blow for Fumio Kishida.


In western Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture, a conservative stronghold, the LDP’s Tsuneo Kitamura took the seat in an overwhelming victory against new candidates from the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and others.


But in east Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture, unaffiliated candidate Shinnosuke Yamazaki won with the backing of both the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People to win in a three-horse race against new candidates from the LDP and JCP. Support from Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu also helped Yamazaki get over the line.


With the power of opposition parties fragmented, conditions had looked favorable for the ruling parties. The LDP even sent Kishida out twice to support their candidate and prop up party support, but it was not effective.


The by-elections just past were seen as an indicator both for measuring how high the people’s expectations are for the newly appointed prime minister, and also as a way to get a sense of how they judge the preceding nine years under the administrations of former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga. It is because of this that the LDP’s loss has significant meaning.


Of particular note has been independent voters’ movements. Exit polls by Kyodo News and others found that 70% of voters with no party affiliation were choosing Yamazaki, with support for the LDP’s candidate just 20%. It appears that the independent voters’ inclinations will be a major factor in the coming House of Representatives election.


Coronavirus patient numbers have decreased nationwide, and the situation is easing the backlash faced by the ruling parties. But regardless of this, what should be recognized as behind a lack of widening support for the LDP is a deep-seated distrust in the politics that has continued since the Abe administration.


There were expectations that Kishida would represent a break from the noticeably forceful political management style used by the administrations of Abe and Suga, but it seems instead that he has been received by voters as not appearing to represent change.


While the prime minister has talked about improving distribution of wealth, he has foregone toughening taxes for the wealthiest in society. He has yet to give a clear outline for his often-cited “new capitalism,” and he appears to be tracing out the growth-prioritizing “Abenomics” economic policy mix. He also doesn’t appear to be taking a proactive stance on issues including alterations to Ministry of Finance official documents and concerns over the relationship between politics and money.


Since 2021 began, the LDP’s struggles have been continuous. It lost electoral contests including a re-contested Hiroshima House of Councillors race and the Yokohama mayoral vote. Kishida has said regarding the by-election loss: “I intend to take to heart fully the people’s voices.”


Dissatisfaction with the current state of politics is rising, and expectations for change are growing, too. What’s under scrutiny in the House of Representatives election is how much both ruling and opposition parties can listen to the people’s voices.

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