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LDP’s Kaneko heads for victory in Kagoshima by-election

Kyodo

Former Kagoshima prefectural assembly chief Masuo Kaneko of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was assured of victory Sunday in a House of Representatives by-election after Kyodo News projections showed him defeating five other contestants.

The election was the first national-level contest since the consumption tax was raised on April 1.

Kaneko, 67, defeated Akashi Uchikoshi, 56, an independent backed by the Democratic Party of Japan and three other opposition parties. Kaneko also enjoyed backing from the LDP’s smaller coalition partner, New Komeito.

Six candidates ran to fill a seat formerly held by LDP lawmaker Takeshi Tokuda, who resigned in February over alleged election campaign violations involving his family and the nation’s largest hospital chain.

The focus of the race for the Kagoshima No. 2 constituency was on the issue of “money and politics” after the scandal, and the impact of the consumption tax hike to 8 percent from 5 percent on voters’ lives.

Before the vote, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the election would provide an opportunity to see how voters view Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic and security policies.

Japan has been engaged in intense negotiations with the United States on a broad bilateral agreement related to the wider Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The goal of the free trade pact, in principle, is to abolish all tariffs, but Tokyo wants to retain tariffs on five politically sensitive farm products.

On the security front, Abe is expected to make a decision on whether to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution so Japan can exercise the U.N. right to collective self-defense, but it is uncertain whether the government will be able to win the support of lay buddhist-backed New Komeito, which is wary about expanding Japan’s security role overseas.

The public is still divided over collective self-defense, or defending an ally under armed attack, because it is banned under war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. Opinion polls by Kyodo News showed the issue of “money and politics” and the economy were major concerns in the constituency.

During campaigning, Kaneko promised to stimulate the local economy with the help of Abe’s policies, while Uchikoshi, a former member of the Lower House, pledged to get to the bottom of the money scandal involving major hospital chain Tokushukai that cost fellow representative Tokuda his seat.

Tokushukai was founded by Tokuda’s father and had organized votes.