SENDAI - An opposition-backed former lawmaker won the Sendai mayoral election on Sunday, a result certain to pile pressure on the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is reeling from scandals and waning public support.
Kazuko Kori’s victory in Miyagi Prefecture is the second major local election defeat in a row for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and further evidence the tide has turned against him since his party was crushed in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election earlier this month.
Kori, a former member of the House of Representatives who was parliamentary secretary of the Reconstruction Agency, defeated funeral home president Hironori Sugawara, who was backed by the LDP and its ruling coalition partner, Komeito, by a vote of 165,452 to 148,993.
Kori, 60, was backed by the Miyagi chapters of both the main opposition Democratic Party and the smaller Social Democratic Party. She also received additional support from the Japanese Communist Party and Liberal Party.
Capitalizing on her experience from four terms in the Diet, Kori campaigned on a platform promising education reform and a quick resolution to Miyagi’s long waiting lists for child care facilities.
Sugawara, 57, was backed by the local chapters of the LDP, Komeito and a smaller conservative force — Nihon no Kokoro o Taisetsu ni suru To (Party for Japanese Kokoro).
In an apparent attempt to avoid negative fallout from the scandals that have shaken Abe’s Cabinet, he relied on the support of local politicians, including Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai and outgoing Sendai Mayor Emiko Okuyama.
“The common sense of each and every citizen led to my victory,” Kori said after securing victory. “The residents of Sendai took their fate into their own hands.”
Conceding defeat, Sugawara apologized to his supporters for not living up to their expectations.
One supporter said Abe’s falling support rate and the LDP’s resounding defeat in the Tokyo assembly election amid favoritism allegations and a slew of other missteps had “no small impact” on Sunday’s election in Sendai.
Turnout in the four-way contest was 44.52 percent, jumping from 30.11 percent in the previous mayoral election four years ago.
In recent months, Abe and his administration have become ensnared in a string of scandals, including allegations he used his influence to secure government approval for a rare new university veterinary department on behalf of his good friend. His party’s defeat in the July 2 Tokyo assembly election was its worst ever.
A Kyodo News poll in mid-July showed that his Cabinet’s approval rating had plunged to 35.8 percent, the lowest since Abe began his second stint as prime minister in 2012. That was followed by a Mainichi Shimbun survey on Sunday that showed he had taken a 10-point fall since June to a dangerous 26 percent.
Another source of headaches has been allegations that Defense Minister Tomomi Inada covered up the existence of politically sensitive activity logs kept during the Ground Self-Defense Force’s peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. The scandal resurfaced in the final stages of the Sendai election.
The main candidates’ two competitors were Hiroki Hayashi, 39, a former member of the Lower House who left the Democratic Party, and Miyo Okubo, 40, another former member of the chamber. Both campaigned as outsiders, stressing their independence from special interest groups.