Race gets under way for five Lower House by-elections

Campaigning began Tuesday for five House of Representatives by-elections to be held Oct. 27.

The Lower House by-elections, along with two House of Councilors by-elections to be held the same day, are seen as a test of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration. Campaigning for the Upper House seats began Thursday.

The hot issues are expected to be the Koizumi administration’s economic policies — with the economy still in a deep slump and share prices collapsing — and the upcoming resumption of normalization talks with North Korea.

The five Lower House elections are in single-seat districts in Yamagata, Kanagawa, Niigata, Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures.

Koizumi’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is fielding or endorsing candidates in all five races.

In addition to LDP-backed candidates, independents with backing from conservative forces are running in three districts, a situation likely to split the conservative vote.

The three districts are the Kanagawa No. 8, Osaka No. 10 and Fukuoka No. 6 constituencies.

In the Yamagata No. 4 constituency, the local LDP chapter insisted the party refrain from putting up an official candidate, given the likelihood of former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, who resigned from the Diet and vacated the seat in April over a financial scandal, attempting a comeback in the next general election.

Ultimately, prompted by the party’s Tokyo headquarters, the LDP opted to endorse — rather than field — a candidate in the district.

In the Niigata No. 5 constituency, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party are backing a joint candidate who will officially run as an independent.

Similar cooperation among the three parties is occurring in the two Upper House by-elections in Chiba and Tottori prefectures.

In the four other Lower House constituencies, the Liberal Party has agreed to support DPJ candidates.

But recent DPJ infighting concerning the appointments of new party executives by re-elected party leader Yukio Hatoyama is clouding the election outlook for the opposition parties.

The Japanese Communist Party will field its own candidates in all five Lower House by-elections.

Political ethics is also expected to be one of the campaign issues because three of the five Lower House by-elections have been necessitated by the resignations of lawmakers elected from these constituencies due to financial scandals.

Besides Kato, they are former Foreign Minister and LDP member Makiko Tanaka from the Niigata constituency, and SDP lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto from the Osaka constituency.

The seat for the Kanagawa No. 8 constituency was automatically vacated when then independent lawmaker Hiroshi Nakada filed his candidacy for the Yokohama mayoral election in March.

The Fukuoka seat became vacant when LDP veteran Masahiro Koga died in September.