In a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling coalition, Shiga voters chose as their next governor Taizo Mikazuki, the designated successor to Yukiko Kada, over a candidate heavily backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

The election was the first voter test of the ruling coalition’s decision to reinterpret collective self-defense, as well as the Liberal Democratic Party’s credibility after one of its Tokyo assembly members insulted a female politician.

Three candidates ran to replace Kada, who decided not to seek a third term.

Besides Mikazuki, they were Takashi Koyari, 47, a former adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet who was a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and Ikuo Tsubota, 55, the Communist Party’s official candidate.

Mikazuki received 253,728 votes to 240,652 for Koyari and 53,280 for Tsubota.

Koyari had the support of the LDP, New Komeito, the prefectural chapter of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), some local Your Party members and senior business leaders, particularly in the construction industry.

Mikazuki, 43, a former Lower House member from the Democratic Party of Japan, was Kada’s designated successor. In addition to her independent supporters — including small-business owners, farmers and environmental activists — he also had the support of the DPJ.

One of the main issues of the campaign was nuclear power. Shiga Prefecture is home to Lake Biwa, the source of drinking water for 14.5 million people. Concern in Shiga over what would happen in the event of an accident at one of nuclear power plants in neighboring Fukui Prefecture was on the minds of many voters.

Mikazuki, like Kada, favors getting out of nuclear power, and promised to make development of other energy sources, especially renewable energy, a major goal.

The victory by Mikazuki is now likely to increase calls within the LDP to replace Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who was in charge of rallying support for Koyari.

Ishiba and other senior LDP officials originally thought the Shiga race would be a relatively easy victory for Koyari, with some polls late last month giving him a clear lead over Mikazuki.

Abe said Monday he will reflect on Koyari’s defeat.

“I would like to fully reflect on it and then have the government and the ruling bloc work together to come up with policies for our citizens,” Abe said during a meeting between the government and the two-party ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the victory by an anti-nuclear candidate in Shiga will not affect the administration’s nuclear policy.

“The policy of restarting nuclear reactors upon approval by the Nuclear Regulation Authority remains unchanged,” Suga said.

Despite the LDP’s early confidence, party officials scrambled after the gap between the candidates closed and the race appeared to be a dead heat.

While Koyari did not enjoy strong name recognition, senior LDP officials also cited two other reasons late last week to explain why the race became tight. The first was anger among voters and within coalition partner New Komeito over the way Abe handled the collective self-defense debate, which created a backlash in Shiga.

The Ground Self-Defense Force’s Aibano Training Area is in the prefectural city of Takashima, and there are concerns even among those who are not opposed to the base that the new agreement could mean an increased Japanese and U.S. military presence in the area.

The second reason was the way the LDP handled sexist comments directed at Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member Ayaka Shiomura, from the minority Your Party, by fellow assembly member Akihiro Suzuki, who was from the LDP. Suzuki’s comments were made during a speech in which Shiomura called for more public support for pregnant women.

Suzuki lied to reporters, saying he did not make any remarks. But he later admitted that he had, and apologized to Shiomura.

There may be a third reason as well. Koyari, and to a lesser extent Mikazuki, had indicated their support for building a new bullet train station in Shiga. This project, long desired by local construction firms that support local LDP politicians, was officially canceled by Kada, who won her first term as governor by promising voters she would not approve it if elected.

Koyari supporters interpreted his message of closer relations with Tokyo in particular as meaning he was the best candidate to convince his former boss Abe to assist in making sure the station got built. But last week, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) President Koei Tsuge told reporters in Osaka that talks over a new bullet train station for Shiga were finished and that he would not respond to any new proposals to build one.

Information from Kyodo added

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