Failing to build on their successes in the first wave of local races earlier in the month, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party saw three candidates it had backed lose in five closely watched mayoral contests Sunday.
The five contests pitting LDP candidates against opposition-backed opponents were held as part of the second round of quadrennial unified local elections, which saw voter turnout hit a record low.
Local elections were seen as a key barometer for the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as it attempts to reinvigorate flagging regional economies
His “Abenomics” policies have spurred spending by some consumers through a surge in the Japanese stock market and provided a boost to major exporters by weakening the yen. However, local economies have reaped far fewer benefits from Abe’s policies so far.
In the Oita mayoral race, LDP-backed Kiichiro Sato, a 57-year-old former bureaucrat with the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, defeated former college professor Michiko Mukuno, 59, who received support from the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
In Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, however, LDP-backed Hidefumi Kubota, a 55-year-old senior official with a local shop managers’ union, failed to beat the 59-year-old incumbent, Nobuto Hosaka, who was supported by the DPJ and two other opposition parties.
In Kyotanabe, Kyoto Prefecture, the LDP-backed candidate Akezo Ishii, 67, defeated a DPJ-backed rival, while DPJ-backed Yasunori Ito, 68, beat an LDP-backed rival in Seto, Aichi Prefecture.
In the remaining key mayoral race, Ken Hasebe, 43, who ran without the backing of any party, cruised to victory in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a Monday news conference that Sunday’s elections, as a whole, “represented voters’ support for Abenomics and the government’s efforts to revitalize local economies.”
Meanwhile, DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano told reporters that his party still face an uphill battle to regain voter trust.
“We see signs of (a declining support rate) bottoming out as a whole, but we need to make more efforts in many areas,” Edano said.
The LDP had hopes to maintain the momentum it had built in the first wave of local polls when it beat the DPJ in two prefectural governor races, smoothing the way for Diet deliberations on controversial security legislation.
In a drastic change to the country’s postwar security policy, the government is expected to submit bills during the current Diet session aimed at expanding the scope of operations by the Self-Defense Forces.
Abe, meanwhile, is expected to seek another term as LDP president in a party election slated for September.
In the first round of local elections on April 12, the LDP handily won a majority in the assemblies of 41 of the nation’s 47 prefectures. It also scored victories in gubernatorial polls in Hokkaido and Oita Prefectures, the only two in which the LDP and DPJ squared off.
The DPJ has yet to recover from a series of elections drubbings as it struggles to maintain its status as a viable alternative to the LDP.
Although Abenomics has been a boon for large companies, opposition parties have slammed the Abe administration for further widening the growing wealth gap between rich and poor.
In all, elections were held Sunday to elect the mayors of 62 cities, 69 towns and villages and 11 of Tokyo’s 23 wards. Voters also cast ballots to pick assembly members in 281 cities, 284 towns and villages and 21 Tokyo wards.
Many local polls in the country are held every four years in April.