KAGOSHIMA – Former Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly chief Masuo Kaneko won a seat in the House of Representatives in Sunday’s by-election, defeating independent Akashi Uchikoshi, who was backed by the Democratic Party of Japan.
A member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Kaneko, 67, was also backed by the LDP’s junior coalition partner, New Komeito, while Uchikoshi, 56, was supported by his former party and three other opposition parties.
Sunday’s election victory, which involved four other challengers and was the first national contest since the sales tax hike on April 1, comes as a relief for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who faces difficult tasks ahead.
“We got voter support for our policies and will continue to devote our energy,” Abe said.
While acknowledging the achievement of getting four opposition parties to work together, DPJ election chief Sumio Mabuchi said in Tokyo that more needs to be done to form a united front against the LDP.
“It was an all-out battle that I won with the party and my support groups,” Kaneko told around 70 supporters who gathered at his office in Kagoshima. Asked whether voters were expressing support for the government’s policies by voting for him, he said, “I believe that is the case.”
Kaneko won 66,360 votes to Uchikoshi’s 46,021, according to final returns counted by the local election board. But turnout sank to 45.99 percent, down 14.56 points from the previous election.
Six candidates ran for the seat formerly held by LDP lawmaker Takeshi Tokuda, who resigned in February over an election campaign fraud scandal.
The race in the Kagoshima No. 2 constituency thus focused on the issue of “money and politics,” and the impact of the consumption tax hike to 8 percent from 5 percent on voters’ daily lives.
Before the vote, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the election would provide an opportunity to see how voters view Abe’s economic and security policies.
Japan has been engaged in intense negotiations with the United States on a broad bilateral agreement related to a wider Pacific free trade pact, although Tokyo wants to retain tariffs on five politically sensitive farm products.
On the security front, Abe is expected to decide whether to attempt to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. But it is uncertain whether the government will be able to win the support of New Komeito, which remains cautious about expanding Japan’s security role overseas.
The public is still divided over collective self-defense, or defending an ally under armed attack.
During his election campaign, Kaneko promised to stimulate the local economy with the help of Abe’s economic 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 former LDP Lower House member Tokuda his seat.
Tokuda’s family members were involved in providing money to Tokushukai workers to buy votes. Still, around 75 percent of those who supported Tokuda in the 2012 general election voted for the LDP’s Kaneko, exit polls by Kyodo News showed. The hospital chain was started by his father.