OSAKA – Two by-elections later this month in Hokkaido and Kyoto will pose the first political tests for the newly formed Democratic Party as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition.
In Hokkaido’s No. 5 Lower House electoral district, the area between Chitose Airport and the outskirts of Sapporo, two candidates are vying to replace former Foreign Minister and powerful Liberal Democratic Party veteran Nobutaka Machimura, who died last year.
Yoshiaki Wada, 44, has been tapped as Machimura’s designated successor and is supported by the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition. The former Mitsubishi Corp. executive is campaigning on economic revitalization.
His opponent is Maki Ikeda, 43, a single mother championing social welfare issues and child care policies. She has the support of the new Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, which agreed not to field a candidate to avoid splitting the anti-LDP vote.
That support, in turn, has Prime Minister Shinzo Abe worried Wada is vulnerable.
In the December 2014 Lower House election, Machimura defeated two opposition candidates by a thin margin of less than 5,000 votes. Hokkaido media reports last week suggested that Ikeda, whose campaign is depicting her as a struggling, working mom running against a wealthy candidate with a privileged background who is out of touch with ordinary voters, has a slight lead.
“The Hokkaido No. 5 race, which kicks off on April 12, is going to be an extremely difficult contest, but we’ll work to win it and connect a victory to the Upper House election,” LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters late last week.
For Abe, a loss in Hokkaido No. 5 would be especially tough and possibly spell trouble for the ruling party in this summer’s crucial Upper House election.
The LDP is not fielding a candidate in the other April 24th contest, a by-election in Kyoto’s No. 3 Lower House district, which includes Fushimi Ward in the city of Kyoto as well as the adjacent cities of Muko and Nagaokakyo.
That poll became necessary after Kensuke Miyazaki, 35, the district’s far-right LDP representative, was forced to resign in February after Shukan Bunshun magazine reported he had an extramarital affair while his wife was pregnant.
Worried about a voter backlash, Tanigaki, who represents a different Kyoto district in the Lower House, decided not to officially back a candidate.
Instead, the main candidates in the Kyoto race are expected to be Kenta Izumi, 41, and Natsue Mori, 34, a former member of the national Osaka Ishin no Kai party.
Unlike the Hokkaido No. 5 race, the Democratic Party and the JCP are not officially working together to support Izumi due to opposition from more conservative Democratic Party politicians such as Seiji Maehara, who represents Kyoto’s No. 2 district in the Lower House. The JCP has told voters to cast their ballots as they please.
“Clear results of the Hokkaido and the Kyoto by-elections are connected to the Upper House and possible Lower House election. We’ve got great candidates and the whole party must support them,” said Democratic Party President Katsuya Okada last week.
In the meantime, Osaka Ishin, whose policies mostly echo those of the LDP, is aggressively supporting Mori, and has already dispatched Osaka Ishin local assembly members to Kyoto to provide campaign assistance.
“If the JCP doesn’t field its own candidate, we’ll see a Democratic Party-JCP ‘federation’-supported candidate running,” Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who heads Osaka Ishin, said last month when he announced Osaka Ishin would support its own candidate.