National

Koizumi gets boost with by-election wins

Kyodo

Former LDP Vice President Taku Yamasaki, one of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s few political allies, secured a comeback to the House of Representatives in a by-election Sunday.

Yamasaki, 68, declared victory over Masanori Hirata, a 37-year-old political newcomer fielded by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, and four other contenders in the Fukuoka No. 2 district.

A candidate backed by Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party also won in another Lower House by-election in the Miyagi No. 2 district.

Kenya Akiba, backed by the LDP, defeated the DPJ’s Yukiko Monma after a tight campaign.

The results are expected to add momentum for Koizumi’s drive to win over opponents within the LDP to his plan to privatize the nation’s postal services.

The two elections — the first Diet contests since the House of Councilors election last July — were held to fill the Lower House seats vacated last year by DPJ lawmakers who resigned in separate scandals.

However, the elections appeared to have drawn little public enthusiasm, with voter turnout at 45.99 percent in Fukuoka and 36.75 percent in Miyagi, compared to 53.41 percent and 54.87 percent in the last general election of the Lower House in November 2003.

The results won’t substantially affect the power balance in the 480-seat Lower House, where the LDP enjoys a majority with 249 seats vs. the DPJ’s 176.

Koizumi actively campaigned for Yamasaki, his longtime ally, even before official campaigning in the election kicked off in mid-April. He visited Fukuoka twice to stump for Yamasaki.

Yamasaki, who became a special adviser to the prime minister after losing his Diet seat in 2003 mainly over a scandal stemming from an extramarital affair, has said he would retire from politics if he lost the by-election.

The by-election was called to fill the seat vacated in September by the DPJ’s Junichiro Koga, who beat Yamasaki in 2003. Koga resigned after admitting he had misrepresented his academic record.

The Miyagi seat was vacated by Sayuri Kamata of the DPJ in December after the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by five of her campaign workers who had been convicted on charges of illegal electioneering in the 2003 general election.