Etsuko Kawada, winner of Sunday’s House of Representatives by-election in Tokyo’s No. 21 single-seat constituency, said Monday she felt a great sense of mission in being elected at a time of strong public distrust in politics.
|Etsuko Kawada speaks to reporters Monday morning, as her son, Ryuhei, looks on.|
Speaking to reporters at her campaign office in the western Tokyo city of Tachikawa, Kawada said, “I’m happy to feel that this is the first step toward a fresh change in the political process.”
Kawada, whose hemophiliac son’s legal battle over contracting HIV through tainted blood products challenged the Japanese establishment during the mid-1990s, campaigned to end codependence among the political community, the bureaucracy and domestic industries, and pledged to fight for improved government transparency.
On her upcoming plans in the Diet, the 51-year-old independent said: “I aim to get involved in medical care and educational issues. I also want to resolve once and for all the issue on the HIV-tainted blood products.
“Although I will be working as an independent, I hope to join hands with other Diet members seeking change in politics.”
Her 24-year-old son, Ryuhei, was the first HIV-infected plaintiff to identify himself in a lawsuit against the government and drugmakers. The case was settled in 1996 following massive protests by plaintiffs and activists.
Expressing hopes for his mother’s new role as a lawmaker, Ryuhei said, “I hope she will do her job always keeping in mind what she is actually working for.”
Kawada’s victory reflects widespread dissatisfaction with major political parties and the erosion of support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in major urban areas such as the capital and Osaka, according to political analysts.
The seat, with a constituency covering the cities of Tachikawa, Hino and Akishima in western Tokyo, was vacated by disgraced 38-year-old lawmaker Joji Yamamoto.
Yamamoto resigned last month over allegations of fraud and lost his membership in the main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan.
Voter turnout was 40.39 percent, according to election officials. The figure was in contrast to the 61.65 percent logged for the general election in June.
The fact that an independent candidate won despite the dismal voter turnout, which traditionally has helped candidates with solid party support, was also a strong indication that urban voters are shying away from political parties in general.
Some observers likened Kawada’s performance to that of writer Yasuo Tanaka, who won the Nagano gubernatorial election last week.
Kawada’s seat was one of two in the Diet being contested Sunday, the first by-elections since electoral law revisions enacted earlier this year dictated that by-elections be grouped together and held twice annually.
Despite the legal revision, however, voter turnout plunged to record-low levels of about 40 percent to 42 percent in both polls as the campaigns apparently failed to generate interest among the electorate.
In the Tokyo No. 21 constituency, four candidates vied for the Lower House seat vacated by Yamamoto. Votes were cast at 75 polling stations in Tachikawa, Akishima and Hino, with eligible voters totaling 350,593.
Kawada overcame rivals Teiko Kudo, 51, an employee of the city of Kokubunji who is backed by the Social Democratic Party; Akihisa Nagashima, 38, a U.S. think tank researcher supported by the DPJ; and Sekiichi Kato, 43, a former Tachikawa assembly member backed by the LDP who turned out to be Kawada’s most formidable competitor.
Kawada secured 51,008 votes to Kato’s 48,883. Nagashima was a distant third with 25,843, and Kudo garnered 13,627.
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