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Upper House candidates in Tokyo vie to fill void after exit of popular lawmaker

JIJI

Candidates are frantically vying for support from unaffiliated voters in Tokyo ahead of Sunday’s House of Councilors election in a bid to take advantage of an opportunity created by the exit of popular lawmaker Taro Yamamoto.

In the constituency, where 20 candidates are competing for six seats, the focus is on which candidate the 670,000 voters who elected Yamamoto in the 2013 poll will support this time.

Six years ago, the television-personality-turned-politician ran as an independent. But he recently created a new political group, Reiwa Shinsengumi, and has decided to run in the Upper House’s nationwide proportional representation bloc instead of the Tokyo constituency.

On July 4, Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, touted Ayaka Shiomura and Issei Yamagishi, the opposition party’s two candidates in the constituency, in a street speech in front of Shinjuku Station.

The party has lost much of the momentum it had at the time of its launch in 2017 and at first, many in the party were concerned that neither of the rookie candidates would win a seat.

But Yamamoto’s departure from the constituency has changed their outlook and the CDP has high hopes for the election because, unlike Yamamoto, Reiwa Shinsengumi’s candidate in Tokyo, former cram school teacher Yoshimasa Nohara, is little known to the public.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, the main supporter of the now-defunct Democratic Party, from which the CDP and the Democratic Party for the People were created, is facing a dilemma.

“It has become difficult to support” any one of the three candidates of the CDP and the DPP, a senior Rengo official said. The DPP’s candidate in the constituency is Motoko Mizuno, a former official of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

“Our organization has been messed up” because of the confusion caused by the DP’s split, the official also said. Rengo decided to extend its support to Shiomura, Yamagishi and Mizuno, though it declined to give a clear recommendation for any of them.

Yamamoto’s exit was also welcomed by former Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member Shun Otokita of Nippon Ishin no Kai, as it’s believed that many supporters of the two politicians overlap.

Otokita once served as secretary-general of a group of metropolitan assembly members under Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), a regional party created by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. He left the party in opposition to its management policy.

Koike led Tomin First no Kai to a landslide victory in the Tokyo assembly election in 2017. But her national political party, Kibo no To (Party of Hope), performed poorly in the Lower House election the same year.

Koike did not back any candidates or parties for Sunday’s Upper House poll as she had expressed a wish to “keep a moderate distance from national politics.”

She is apparently keeping quiet because she does not want to anger the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ahead of the Tokyo gubernatorial election next year.

Yoshiko Kira of the Japanese Communist Party is seen benefiting most from the departure of Yamamoto, who has campaigned for some JCP candidates in previous election campaigns.

“It’ll be good if we can cooperate. We have many common policies,” Kira said. She was also confident that she can rally support from unaffiliated voters.

By contrast, Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, who is running for a seat as an incumbent, is wary about the implications of Yamamoto’s move. The JCP has long been his rival.

If Yamaguchi garners less votes than Kira, we would consider that to be a defeat, a Komeito source said.

During a rally on July 11 in front of Kitasenju Station in Adachi Ward, Yamaguchi shouted, “We must not leave (politics) to irresponsible people.”

Two incumbent LDP candidates, Tamayo Marukawa and Keizo Takemi, are looking to hold on to their seats.

At a rally in Meguro Ward on July 8, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso asked for support for Takemi. He is far less popular than former TV announcer Marukawa, the top winner in the constituency six years ago with more than 1 million votes.

An Upper House election is held every three years, with half of all seats contested each time. Members serve six-year terms.