The Liberal Democratic Party’s narrow victory in Sunday’s House of Councilors by-election in Saitama Prefecture has given the party a boost ahead of Tuesday’s start of official campaigning for the Nov. 9 general election.
But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi acknowledged Monday that the result also shows that the LDP must do more to win support among unaffiliated voters — often a key to electoral victories in urban constituencies.
“It was good for the LDP to win (the House of Councilors by-election) after many people said the LDP would be weak,” Koizumi said in his office.
“But the LDP has to make more efforts so that more voters without any party affiliation support it” in the upcoming House of Representatives election.
Masakazu Sekiguchi, a 50-year-old former member of the Saitama Prefectural Assembly, ran on the LDP ticket, defeating Chiyako Shimada, a 41-year-old former TV anchorwoman fielded by the Democratic Party of Japan, by just 13,000 votes.
Sachiyo Abe, a 55-year-old candidate fielded by the Japanese Communist Party, came in third with 232,850 votes.
Exit polls conducted by Kyodo News suggested that 54 percent of unaffiliated voters opted for Shimada, while only 19 percent voted for Sekiguchi.
Both the LDP and the DPJ had viewed Sunday’s race as a litmus test of voter sentiment for the general election.
Koizumi and LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe took to the streets of Saitama to appeal for voter support, while DPJ leaders, such as party chief Naoto Kan and Ichiro Ozawa, waged a full-fledged campaign to garner unaffiliated votes.
But with voter turnout recorded at an extremely low 27.52 percent, it is not clear which of the two parties achieved the greater level of success.
The turnout was around half that recorded for the 2000 Upper House election and was the second-lowest postwar figure for a Diet election in the prefecture.
The low turnout apparently helped Sekiguchi, who relied more on organized votes from industry groups and supporters of local LDP Diet members.
A senior LDP lawmaker admitted that Sunday’s result was an extremely narrow victory, while Kan tried to put a brave face on the matter.
“(The DPJ candidate) fought a good fight amid the extraordinarily low voter turnout. We have good prospects for the general election,” Kan said.
Yet Sunday’s defeat does constitute a setback for the DPJ, which had hoped to maintain the momentum generated by the landslide victory of Kiyoshi Ueda, a former DPJ lawmaker, in the Saitama gubernatorial election in August.
The DPJ leadership blamed the loss on the low turnout, amid speculation that many unaffiliated voters on whom the DPJ was counting on did not cast ballots.
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