Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election dealt a hard blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with his Liberal Democratic Party suffering a historic defeat and securing only 23 seats — the lowest-ever figure for the LDP.
But another big loser in the election may face problems more serious than those weighing on Abe. Despite being the largest opposition party in the Diet, the Democratic Party won just 5 of 127 seats in the assembly.
The bleak result has underlined how few voters regard the DP as an alternative political force that could replace the ruling LDP.
Instead, a large number of Tokyo voters supported Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, a new local party formed in January that has become the No. 1 party in the assembly, having won 55 seats.
Tomin First does not have any lawmakers in the Diet or any other local assemblies.
The DP initially planned to field 36 candidates, but many of them have since left the party amid a dwindling support rate — far less than 10 percent despite plummeting approval ratings for Abe’s Cabinet in recent media polls.
“We struggled as some members left the party in turn, and public trust for the DP has eroded,” DP president Renho told reporters on Tuesday. “Tokyoites have been enraged over Abe’s Cabinet and the LDP. But people have turned to Tomin First, not to us, to express their own voice.”
She added: “This is an extremely serious situation for the DP.”
Nonetheless, Renho said she won’t resign to take responsibility for the result.
Many political analysts had speculated that the DP might not win a single seat, so DP members appear to recognize that the party has at least avoided this nightmare scenario. This seems to have encouraged Renho to stay at the helm.
“This is a local assembly election, so I don’t think I should discuss my direct responsibility” for the result, Renho said.
However, the Tokyo defeat is likely to erode much of Renho’s political standing, both within and outside the party.
Renho was elected as party president in September last year, with many members believing the former TV personality and newscaster to be one of the most popular DP politicians, capable of boosting its popularity among voters.
Renho, well-known for her public speaking skills and aggressive questioning style in Diet sessions, represents a Tokyo constituency in the Upper House.
This was also thought to count in her favor as she campaigned for Tokyo assembly candidates from the party. The poor result will likely raise questions among DP members.
According to an exit poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily, only 7 percent of voters said they supported the DP in general, down from 18 percent seen in the 2016 Upper House election. In the same poll, 26 percent said they supported the LDP and 24 percent supported Tomin First. Another 21 percent said they don’t support any party.
Acknowledging support for a particular party does not necessarily mean respondents would have voted for the same party in Sunday’s election. According to the Asahi, 25 percent of LDP supporters and 52 percent of unaffiliated voters submitted ballots for Tomin First and its allies. The exit poll covered 27,777 respondents who gave valid answers.