Campaigning for two pivotal by-elections in Tokyo and Fukuoka kicked off Tuesday, the outcomes of which could influence Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to call a snap election early next year.
The Oct. 23 by-elections, which are taking place in the Tokyo No. 10 and Fukuoka No. 6 districts, will choose successors to Yuriko Koike, who successfully ran for Tokyo governor in July, and Kunio Hatoyama, who passed away in June.
The timing of the by-elections couldn’t have come at a more touchy political moment. They come only a few months after the Upper House election in July, which saw Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its allies — who favor amending the Constitution — win a sweeping victory.
A possible double victory for the ruling bloc in the by-elections could further convince Abe of his party’s steadfast popularity and galvanize him into dissolving the Lower House to hold a snap election.
Winning such an election would solidify Abe’s already powerful grip and provide ammunition for those who favor extending his tenure as party head beyond September 2018, which would make him one of the longest-serving prime ministers in the post-World War II era.
Just on Monday, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told reporters after an event in Wakayama Prefecture that the “election winds” have started to blow, in what is seen by some as a signal of Abe’s intention to venture a snap election.
On Tuesday in the Tokyo by-election, Masaru Wakasa, who is backed by the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition, and opposition-backed Yosuke Suzuki, who has the support of the Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and other opposition parties, made impassioned speeches before potential voters at JR Ikebukuro and Otsuka stations.
“I will promote cleaner politics,” the 59-year-old Wakasa, a former prosecutor, said during his speech at Ikebukuro Station.
Wakasa said he wants to draw on his long years of experience in law enforcement to purge the nation’s politics of graft and vested interests. He also trumpeted his counterterrorism expertise, saying it will prove invaluable in ensuring a safe 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I will do what only I can do,” he said. He was accompanied by Koike and Nikai, both of whom pledged to give their “all-out” in securing victory for Wakasa.
Outside Otsuka Station, the 40-year-old Suzuki, a former NHK reporter, sounded the alarm over what he said is the nation’s deepening poverty and income inequality.
“My goal is to create a society where everybody belongs,” Suzuki said, vowing to help marginalized segments, such as the poor and sexual minorities.
Standing by Suzuki’s side was DP President Renho, who faulted Abe for increased poverty and an unstable employment environment. She cast his Abenomics policy as being oblivious to reality and unable to produce sustainable growth.
The outcome of the by-elections will also have implications for the intraparty clout of Nikai and Renho, for whom the race represents the first major challenge since they took up their respective positions in recent leadership shake-ups.
A defeat would in particular cost Renho, adding to burgeoning frustrations within the DP over her about-face concerning her dual nationality and her choice of party executives, which some observers have called overly close to her.
In addition, the Tokyo race is not without controversy. The LDP’s Tokyo chapter is threatening to expel seven assembly members who supported Koike over Hiroya Masuda, who was endorsed by the LDP, in the lead-up to the July gubernatorial election. Wakasa said if they are expelled, he will quit the party even if he wins the by-election.
The race in Fukuoka, where the LDP failed to field a united candidate due to infighting, will see conservative independents Jiro Hatoyama, 37, and Ken Kurauchi, 35, face off against DP-endorsed Fumiko Arai, 49.
The LDP had to venture a split in votes between Hatoyama and Kurauchi after Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who supports the former, and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who backs the latter, failed to reconcile their differences. If one of the two candidates emerges victorious, the party will endorse that person.
Information from Kyodo added
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.