National / Politics

Saitama candidate Mayuko Toyota's negative publicity might work in favor of her re-election to Diet

JIJI

After suffering an embarrassing scandal, the silver lining for Mayuko Toyota — who is seeking re-election as an independent candidate in Sunday’s poll — is that the sordid publicity has at least achieved one thing: name recognition.

Toyota, 43, made headlines when she was accused of physically and verbally assaulting one of her secretaries. A recording of Toyota hurling relentless insults at her male assistant, including a jab about his baldness, was played and replayed in the 24-hour news cycle, leaving her little choice but to submit a letter of resignation to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in June.

Toyota began a tour of apology in the Saitama No. 4 constituency in September before the Lower House was dissolved. She paid personal visits to voters’ homes before election campaigning kicked off on Oct. 10. Candidates aren’t allowed to pay such visits during campaigning.

“I’ve caused you a great deal of trouble. I came here putting aside my pride,” said Toyota, bowing to commuters in Saitama’s Niiza.

The heavy media exposure of her infamous recorded rant had made her a household name. On the street, people will approach Toyota for handshakes and autographs, while responses for fliers outlining her candidacy have been better than expected.

However, the publicity may not translate into votes.

“She is free to run in the election, but I am not rooting for her,” said a woman looking at Toyota from a distance. After receiving a leaflet from the candidate, a man said, “I know her dedication to work very well, but she should have held off running this time.”

After leaving the LDP, Toyota found her activities substantially restricted. She lost a series of secretaries, leaving her office with just one female aide and a few volunteers.

“We’re asking supporters for help, but we can’t afford to put up many posters and send postcards,” the secretary said.

In the constituency, five candidates, including Toyota, are competing under the first-past-the-post system. The LDP hurriedly fielded Yasushi Hosaka, a 43-year-old former assembly member of the Saitama city of Shiki, but he didn’t have much time for full preparation.

Toyota has made efforts to put down roots in the communities of her constituency, by attending local festivals and meetings.

“The voter reaction to my campaign is still weak,” admitted Hosaka, a first-timer in a national election.

“A woman in tears bowing tends to elicit sympathy,” a senior official of his campaign office said. The official is resigned to losing the votes of some LDP supporters to Toyota.

Yoshinori Yoshida, a four-term Saitama Prefectural Assembly member, is also running on the ticket of Kibo no To (Party of Hope).

For 20 years, Yoshida, 43, has regarded as his mentor Saitama Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda, who aggressively campaigned in the district when he was a Lower House lawmaker.

In the kickoff rally, Yoshida referred to Toyota and demanded that the LDP and Komeito begin by reflecting on what members of the parties have done under the rule of their coalition.