LDP-backed candidate loses Shiga race

LDP-backed candidate loses Shiga race
Taizo Mikazuki.

TOKYO - Taizo Mikazuki, a former Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker, won the Shiga gubernatorial election Sunday-a jab in the eye of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, which provided all-out support to his rival.

Mikazuki, a 43-year-old former House of Representative member, garnered 253,728 votes, narrowly edging out Takashi Koyari, a former Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry official backed by the ruling parties. Koyari won 240,652 votes, while another candidate, Ikuo Tsubota, received 53,280 votes.

All three ran as independent candidates. The voter turnout was 50.15 per cent, down from 61.56 per cent in the last election.

Mikazuki, who was handpicked by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada as her successor, was successful in wooing voters without party affiliation with his pledge to follow Kada's stance of phasing out nuclear power, according to an analysis by The Yomiuri Shimbun. He received support from the DPJ as well as Rengo Shiga, the prefectural chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).

Kada had announced her retirement after two terms from the helm of the prefectural government.

With Mikazuki's victory, the DPJ is boosting its morale and trying to find common ground with other opposition parties to wage a political battle against the ruling parties.

"Criticism against the high-handed management of the administration is running high," said Sumio Mabuchi, chief of the DPJ Election Campaign Committee. "We would like to make this the first step in turning the situation around for the DPJ."

During the campaign, the ruling parties extended full support to Koyari in the race held on the heels of the Cabinet approval of the government's new constitutional interpretation that allows the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defence.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue were among the high-ranking Cabinet or party officials who visited the prefecture in support of Koyari's campaign.

Though it was a local election, the defeat of a candidate supported strongly by the ruling parties may have ramifications on the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The government and the LDP are trying to buffer any negative impact they might suffer.

"[Koyari] was not well known enough," Ishiba told reporters in Tokyo. "The LDP has yet to build a sufficient support base [in the area]. Our lower house members are first-term or second-term lawmakers."

Koyari, one of the government officials instrumental in crafting Abenomics policies, pledged to revitalize the Shiga economy, using his strong ties with the central government. But he failed to overcome his perceived weakness of being less known.

In addition, the election was overshadowed by controversies before and after the official start of campaigning for the election.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara stirred an uproar last month when he said that money would be what matters most after all in negotiations between the central and relevant local governments to select sites to build temporary facilities for storing contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture.

LDP members were also tied to sexist jeers made at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly and the lower house Internal Affairs and Communications Committee, which provided the opposition parties with fodder to criticise the government and the ruling parties.

On July 1, after the start of campaigning, The Yomiuri Shimbun and other media organisations reported that the Cabinet approval ratings dropped following last month's decision on the new constitutional interpretation.

Some within the government and the ruling parties have expressed concern that the approval of the new interpretation is seen as the factor in the election defeat, although it has not been officially acknowledged by the administration or the ruling camp.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue were among the high-ranking Cabinet or party officials who visited the prefecture in support of Koyari's campaign.

Though it was a local election, the defeat of a candidate supported strongly by the ruling parties may have ramifications on the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The government and the LDP are trying to buffer any negative impact they might suffer.

"[Koyari] was not well known enough," Ishiba told reporters in Tokyo. "The LDP has yet to build a sufficient support base [in the area]. Our lower house members are first-term or second-term lawmakers."

Koyari, one of the government officials instrumental in crafting Abenomics policies, pledged to revitalize the Shiga economy, using his strong ties with the central government. But he failed to overcome his perceived weakness of being less known.

In addition, the election was overshadowed by controversies before and after the official start of campaigning for the election.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara stirred an uproar last month when he said that money would be what matters most after all in negotiations between the central and relevant local governments to select sites to build temporary facilities for storing contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture.

LDP members were also tied to sexist jeers made at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly and the lower house Internal Affairs and Communications Committee, which provided the opposition parties with fodder to criticise the government and the ruling parties.

On July 1, after the start of campaigning, The Yomiuri Shimbun and other media organisations reported that the Cabinet approval ratings dropped following last month's decision on the new constitutional interpretation.

Some within the government and the ruling parties have expressed concern that the approval of the new interpretation is seen as the factor in the election defeat, although it has not been officially acknowledged by the administration or the ruling camp.

DPJ gains momentum

This autumn, there will be important local races such as gubernatorial elections in Fukushima on Oct. 26 and in Okinawa on Nov. 16. Commenting on the latest poll results, Ishiba said to reporters Sunday in Tokyo: "We take the fact seriously that a candidate who had the full support of the LDP was defeated. We'll focus on upcoming local elections, and start reviewing and improving our campaign strategy soon."

As Mikazuki reversed the initial speculation that he was trailing, a senior DPJ official said, "The winds of change are coming."

Mikazuki was reported as working in tandem with Kada while trying to "hide the DPJ connection," so DPJ leader Banri Kaieda did not stump for Mikazuki in Shiga Prefecture. However, as the DPJ showed clear signs of confrontation against the government and ruling parties, DPJ Election Campaign Committee chief Sumio Mabuchi was stationed there during the campaign period, and several DPJ members, including former Secretary General Goshi Hoshono went to the prefecture to support Mikazuki. "I felt strong opposition against the arrogant handling of government by the Abe administration," Mabuchi said in the prefecture Sunday.

The DPJ leadership expects that the victory in the Shiga gubernatorial election will help dispel calls for the replacement of Kaieda. "Voters will consider the victory to have been won by the Kaieda-led DPJ," a senior DPJ member said.

With this election result, the DPJ hopes to focus on themes that can be shared by other opposition parties so it can impress on the public the image of confrontation between a strong LDP and the others.

The DPJ will aim to band together with other opposition parties to fight over such issues as the procedures taken for the recent Cabinet decision on the constitutional interpretation to allow the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defence, deregulation of the temporary employment system and other issues.

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