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LDP win mimics December election

Opposition camp unable to muster a viable force

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election was like a rerun of the decisive Lower House poll that returned the Liberal Democratic Party to power in December.

The landslide victory by the local-level candidates will give the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc plenty of momentum in the run-up to the July Upper House election, where it hopes to re-establish control over the chamber.

Its chances are good. The opposition has been practically invisible and the rising number of Japanese swing voters will be challenged to find a viable alternative to the LDP.

This is the first time in the history of Tokyo assembly elections that the LDP, which has been around since shortly after the war, won all of the seats it was vying for. With 59 seats in hand and New Komeito’s 23 in the mix, the ruling coalition controls almost two-thirds of the 127-member assembly, regaining all seats lost to the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009, shortly before the DPJ came to power in a Lower House poll.

“As the responsible ruling coalition, nothing is better than the fact that all the candidates of the LDP and New Komeito won their seats in the run-up to the Upper House election,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday. “Voters care about the economy.”

Even though it was a local-level election, the ruling bloc’s agenda focused on the economy and the Upper House poll, recognizing the metro race would be a harbinger for next month.

Their strategy worked. A survey by the daily Asahi Shimbun shows that more than 70 percent of respondents said they support Abe’s “Abenomics” measures, even though the tangible benefits have yet to emerge.

Despite Abe’s high approval rating, which hovers over 60 percent, the LDP did not advance significantly in terms of number of votes won. Party candidates collectively only won about 175,000 more votes, or 1.5 points more than they did in 2009, when DPJ candidates prevailed.

Voter turnout, which at 43.50 percent was the second-lowest on record, worked in the LDP’s favor, underscoring that there are no other parties capable of wooing the swing vote, which has at times been a deciding factor.

In the 2009 assembly election, DPJ candidates won by attracting Tokyo’s nonaffiliated voters. But the party failed to rebrand itself after its drubbing in the House of Representative poll in December, even though there were predictions that it might benefit from the fall in popularity of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), whose co-leader, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, raised international outrage last month by apparently trying to justify Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system of sex slavery for its military.

“The DPJ will surely suffer a defeat in the Upper House election,” said Katsuyuki Yakushiji, a Toyo University professor and a former political editor at the Asahi Shimbun. “It’s not that the DPJ mismanaged its strategy. It didn’t have one. It’s hard to understand what message it wants to send to the voters.”

The widely divided nonaffiliated voters partly benefited from the Japanese Communist Party, which became the third-largest group in the assembly, with 17 seats, as low voter turnouts often work in favor of parties with strong support bases and election machines. The JCP also succeeded in establishing itself as the key opponent of the LDP by calling for abolishing nuclear power and opposing any revision to the Constitution.

Your Party won seven seats in its first metro election, as voters approved of its consistency in pushing for deregulation and reform of the civil servant system.

The Social Democratic Party and People’s Life Party, led by DPJ defector Ichiro Ozawa, did not win any seats Sunday, and Yakushiji said both will probably fare the same way in the July Upper House poll.

“Big parties like the LDP and New Komeito will win the 31 single-seat constituencies, making it hard for the smaller parties to do well in the (July) election,” he said.

Yakushiji said the pendulum nature of national politics is affecting local polls that used to focus on regional issues and were somewhat immune from Diet politics.