Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party took majority control of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly away from the Democratic Party of Japan in Sunday’s election, projections show.
The landslide victory, which was expected, will give the LDP a boost heading into July’s House of Councilors election, when voters will cast judgement on Abe’s handling of the seven-month-old government.
As of 11 p.m., the LDP had won at least 56 seats and New Komeito 22, securing the 64 needed for a simple majority, according to Kyodo News.
The DPJ meanwhile had only taken 14 seats, meaning its final total is likely to be well below the 43 it had going into the race.
Sunday’s election saw 253 candidates vie for 127 seats in the Tokyo assembly amid sluggish public interest in the race.
Voter turnout as of 7:30 p.m. stood at 32.48 percent, down from 42.77 percent at the same time in the previous election in 2009. Turnout in that contest eventually reached 54.49 percent.
The contest was expected to focus on “Abenomics” — the prime minister’s slickly promoted mix of fiscal stimulus, radical monetary easing and reforms aimed at pulling the world’s third-largest economy out of chronic deflation.
Abe said the election had to be won “at any cost” because it would set the tone for the Upper House poll next month, when voters will judge his handling of the government since the LDP was returned to power in December, mostly over heavy disappointment with the DPJ.
The parties were expecting Sunday’s contest to inject momentum into their campaigns for the July 21 House of Councilors election.
The results reflect the DPJ’s quiet fall from grace since 2009, when it became the biggest force in assembly before putting an end to five decades of nearly uninterrupted rule in the Diet by the LDP.
Before the election, the DPJ had 43 seats in the assembly, while the LDP had 39, New Komeito 23, and the Japanese Communist Party eight.
In the LDP, memories are still fresh of the way it was crushed in the 2009 Tokyo assembly poll. That beating paved the way for the DPJ to take the reins of the nation for the first time.
The LDP fielded 59 candidates in Sunday’s contest, compared with 44 for the DPJ, 23 for New Komeito and 42 for the JCP.
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), waging its first assembly campaign ever with 34 candidates, grabbed some of the election spotlight because of co-leader Toru Hashimoto, the outspoken mayor of Osaka who recently sparked an international outcry with remarks attempting to justify Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system of sexual slavery.
Nippon Ishin had won just two seats as of 11:30 p.m., according to NHK.
The unrepentant Hashimoto said he might step down if Nippon Ishin’s candidates fare poorly in the assembly race. Although he apologized to the candidates for causing them trouble, he refused to retract his remarks.
If Abe’s LDP can secure control of the Upper House in July, it will ease a legislative bottleneck and give him free rein to push through the painful reforms commentators say Japan desperately needs.
Detractors warn that with a majority in both houses, Abe will take his eye off the economic ball and push the conservative social agenda he was known for before the election, including the possible rewriting of Japan’s wartime history, and the Constitution.
They say this risks further irritating Japan’s inflamed ties with China and South Korea.
Campaigning for the Tokyo assembly contest was relatively low-key, with few hot issues for Tokyo voters to debate. That was expected to translate into a low turnout and boost the prospects of the LDP, which has a solid support base.
The LDP’s main opponent, the DPJ, had the most assembly seats at 54 going into the race but has been in disarray since its drubbing in December’s Lower House poll.
Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, in whom the bulk of the capital’s power is vested, is not up for election, having won a four-year term in December.