In an election that produced no surprises, it’s little wonder the biggest political names in the six prefectures that make up the Kinki region (Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara and Wakayama) were all returned to the Diet, though one or two had a close call.
No doubt Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was especially happy with the result in the Nara No. 2 district, which includes the prefecture’s eastern edge along the border with Osaka and the city of Nara.
There, his close friend, the ultra-right wing Sanae Takaichi, his internal affairs and communications minister, easily defeated a candidate from former Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa’s latest political incarnation, Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party).
Takaichi, who in 2003 lost her seat in the district and was forced to relocate to a more conservative, rural part of the prefecture, bagged over 96,000 votes, one of the highest totals among Kinki bloc winners and about 58,000 more than her Seikatsu no To rival.
The man who unseated Takaichi in the city of Nara 11 years ago also had a big night. Sumio Mabuchi of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, served in the DPJ Cabinet of Naoto Kan from 2010 to 2011 as transport minister and minister for Okinawa and the Northern Territories, and then as a special adviser to the prime minister following the March 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.
Mabuchi had a brief scare, running neck and neck with the LDP candidate for a couple of hours after the polls closed last Sunday. But he ended up with 79,000 votes, about 12,000 more than his rival.
The other prominent DPJ candidate to win re-election was Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who took Osaka’s No. 10 district, which includes the city of Takatsuki, after a three-way battle involving a candidate from the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition and one from Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).
Kenta Matsunami, the 43-year-old Ishin candidate, comes from a long line of Osaka politicians dogged by allegations of close ties to organized crime.
But Matsunami is also a favorite of Ishin leaders Toru Hashimoto and Ichiro Matsui. Both campaigned hard on his behalf. He just managed to squeak back into the Diet under the proportional representation system.
The other prominent DPJ member who cruised to victory was former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, from Kyoto’s No. 2 district, which includes much of the eastern part of the city of Kyoto.
Maehara, who beat the ruling bloc-backed candidate by nearly 30,000 votes, enjoys the support of Kyocera Corp. founder Kazuo Inamori, who was appointed chairman of then-bankrupt Japan Airlines in 2010 after Maehara, who was then transport minister, pushed for him.
But Kyoto was also where two of the LDP’s biggest heavyweights were returned to the Diet.
Sadakazu Tanigaki, the party’s secretary-general, easily won re-election. He represents the Kyoto No. 5 district, a large, rural area in the northern part of the prefecture along the Sea of Japan. Extending from Hyogo Prefecture in the west to Fukui Prefecture in the east, it includes the port of Maizuru, likely to be a major evacuation point if disaster strikes Fukui’s Mihama nuclear power plant, which lies 5 km from parts of the city.
Meanwhile, former LDP Finance Minister Bunmei Ibuki trounced his Japanese Communist Party candidate in the Kyoto No. 1 district, which includes the more central and western parts of the city of Kyoto, by a margin of 20,000 votes.
With big local names from both the LDP and the DPJ back in the Diet, Kansai remains well-represented by the most powerful established parties. Despite the rise of Hashimoto’s Ishin no To these past few years, these parties remain as strong in Kansai as they are elsewhere.