SHIZUOKA (Kyodo) Heita Kawakatsu, the candidate backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, was elected governor of Shizuoka in a close race Sunday, dealing yet another blow to the already struggling Prime Minister Taro Aso.
Kawakatsu, 60, who was also supported by the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), defeated Yukiko Sakamoto, 60, backed by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and two other candidates.
The critical loss will likely influence the timing for the general election that Aso must call for no later than October. Sakamoto’s loss also raises the stakes for the LDP and its coalition to retain a majority in the July 12 Tokyo assembly election.
The DPJ’s victory in Shizuoka will provide momentum not only to the DPJ but also to those within the LDP calling for Aso to step down.
Some analysts said that a snap election under the circumstances will jeopardize the LDP’s already slim chance for victory, and Aso may feel compelled to hold up dissolving the Lower House until next month.
Aso will likely try to spin the defeat as only a local setback, but the LDP has been on a losing streak since Yukio Hatoyama replaced Ichiro Ozawa as head of the DPJ.
Last month, the DPJ-backed Toshihito Kumagai was elected mayor in the city of Chiba in a landslide against a candidate backed by the LDP. The DPJ also triumphed in the mayoral election in Saitama in May.
Kawakatsu, whose victory will provide a boost to the opposition, is an economist and former head of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture.
He staked his campaign on pledges to resolve Shizuoka’s ¥2.3 trillion deficit and improve the prefecture’s education system.
Hatoyama and other DPJ heavyweights stumped in the prefecture to support Kawakatsu’s campaign, appealing to voters there to “start the ball rolling for a change of government” at the national level.
Sakamoto, a former LDP Upper House member, had tried to play down her association with the unpopular Aso despite the prime minister’s intention to visit Shizuoka for a campaign speech.
Sakamoto distanced herself from the LDP using the catchphrase “Kenminto,” or “prefecture people’s party.”
Meanwhile in Hyogo Prefecture, Gov. Toshizo Ido was re-elected Sunday to a third term, according to Kyodo News projections.
Ido, 63, backed by the LDP, New Komeito and the Social Democratic Party, appeared to have easily defeated Kotaro Tanaka, 60, endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party.
During the campaign, Ido publicized his achievements in promoting reconstruction following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and tackling the swine flu outbreak.
Cabinet poll rating up
The support rate for the Cabinet has recovered to 23.4 percent, up 5.9 percentage points from the previous poll, giving embattled Prime Minister Taro Aso a boost ahead of the general election.
The disapproval rating for the Cabinet was 60.9 percent in the nationwide telephone survey conducted Friday and Saturday by Kyodo News, down 9.7 points from the poll in June.
While the Democratic Party of Japan stayed on top in terms of the party that respondents said they would vote for in the proportional representation section of the Lower House election, their numbers dropped 13.5 points to 34.3 percent.
Those who said they would vote for Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party rose 7.6 points to 26.3 percent.
In another positive result for Aso, the LDP overtook the DPJ in terms of party approval ratings, garnering 27.2 percent against 26.5 percent.
In the June survey, 38.5 percent of the respondents expressed support for the DPJ, compared with 19.8 percent for the LDP.
The Cabinet’s approval rating plunged last month after trending higher in previous months due to the political fundraising scandal involving former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa. Support appears to have improved this time owing to a more recent scandal in connection with Ozawa’s successor, Yukio Hatoyama.
Only 12.4 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with Hatoyama’s explanations about the falsification of a political funding report, and a whopping 78.3 percent said they were dissatisfied.
But many of the 1,022 respondents questioned Aso’s recent decision not to change the LDP leadership when he added two new members to the Cabinet last week to fill posts that had been handled concurrently by other ministers.
Respondents who said Aso should not have made any changes at all to the Cabinet lineup totaled 43.3 percent, while 25.1 percent thought a limited change was inevitable and 19.6 percent wanted him to carry out a more thorough shakeup.