By-election outcome a vote of confidence: Fukuda

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has hailed the ruling coalition’s performance in Sunday’s by-elections as “better than anticipated,” as leaders of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan move to contain damage in the wake of their party’s dismal showing.

U.S. President George W. Bush congratulated Koizumi on Sunday after the candidates backed by his Liberal Democratic Party and his allies swept five of the seven Diet seats contested in the by-elections.

Bush and Koizumi were in Los Cabos, Mexico, for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the by-election results can be seen as a public vote of confidence in the reform initiatives pursued by the Koizumi administration.

“Given the result, it can be safely said that voters are in favor of reform steps taken by the Koizumi Cabinet,” Fukuda said.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, who serves as a special representative of the DPJ, called the party’s campaign “fragmented.”

“(The election results) made it known widely to the public that the DPJ is not reliable,” Hata said, before adding that simply blaming the party’s top leaders, including DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, would do little to solve the problems.

The LDP swept five of the seven seats up for grabs, while the DPJ won only one.

LDP-backed candidates won races in the Fukuoka No. 6, Osaka No. 10 and Niigata No. 5 districts of the Lower House and in the Chiba and Tottori constituencies of the Upper House.

Meanwhile, Yale University graduate school student Jun Saito, 33, running on the opposition Democratic Party of Japan ticket, won the race in the Yamagata No. 4 district — a long-established “kingdom” of former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, who resigned over money scandals.

Kenji Eda, who had served as secretary to former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, won the by-election in the Kanagawa No. 8 district. Eda, 46, ran as an independent after turning down the LDP’s request to run on the party’s ticket.

The by-elections, seen as a major electoral contest for Koizumi as the nation remains mired in an economic slump, were marked by extremely low voter turnout — up to 28 percentage points lower than in the general election held in June 2000.

Voter turnout was at historic lows in all of the seven districts. In the Chiba constituency, turnout was only 24.14 percent, meaning three out of four eligible voters failed to go to polling stations.

In Fukuoka’s No. 6 constituency, Ryuzo Aramaki, 30, backed by the LDP and coalition partners New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, defeated his rivals, including former DPJ Lower House member Issei Koga, who in earlier media forecasts had been favored to win the race.

Aramaki, son of a former governor of Kyoto Prefecture, fought an uphill battle in the campaign as he was marked as a candidate with few links to Fukuoka. Conservative votes were also split as some local LDP supporters fielded another candidate.

But Koga, who won a Lower House seat in the previous election as a proportional-representation candidate, also came under criticism when he gave up his seat to run in the by-election. Lawmakers tend to prefer being elected from electoral districts, rather than on a party’s proportional-representation ticket.

In the Osaka No. 10 district, LDP-backed Kenta Matsunami, 31, a former reporter with the Sankei Shimbun daily, defeated his rivals in a race that was triggered by the resignation of Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Social Democratic Party over allegations that she misappropriated the state-paid salaries of her secretaries.

The Niigata No. 5 district, which was similarly left vacant by the resignation of former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, was won by Yukio Hoshino, 70, a former Lower House member backed by the LDP and its coalition partners.

In the Chiba Prefecture constituency of the Upper House, Kazuyasu Shiina, 50, won the race on the LDP ticket. The Chiba constituency has been left vacant since the resignation of Upper House President Yutaka Inoue over a bribery scandal involving his secretary.

In Tottori Prefecture, Kotaro Tamura, an LDP-backed 39-year-old executive of a local newspaper, won a narrow victory in the race in which conservative votes were split between him and a contender backed by many LDP local assembly members.