National / Politics

Japan's opposition parties score upset in Akita but lose in Fukushima

Staff Report

Shizuka Terata, an independent jointly backed by four opposition parties, scored a major upset in the Upper House race in Akita Prefecture on Sunday by defeating incumbent Matsuji Nakaizumi of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Kyodo News said.

The seat was considered one of the top battlegrounds among the 32 single-seat constituencies up for grabs as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling LDP and its allies attempted to win a supermajority in the 245-seat chamber in his attempt to revise the Constitution.

The loss came despite appearances by Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and rising young star Shinjiro Koizumi of the Lower House, who stumped for Nakaizumi at an unprecedented pace during the Upper House campaign.

Akita, a rural, mountainous prefecture famous for sake and dotted with rice paddies, is a longtime LDP stronghold.

Nakaizumi’s defeat underscores the ruling party’s weakening grip on rural communities and Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA), once one of its most powerful election machines.

Farmers in the Tohoku region are deeply frustrated by Abe’s drive to open up more of the nation’s protected agriculture market under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. They are also upset with reforms expected to weaken JA’s clout over local agricultural cooperatives.

Abe has pledged to purchase the Aegis Ashore missile defense system from the United States as a defense against missiles from North Korea, with plans to set up one battery each in the city of Akita and in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture. The system is expected to cost hundreds of billions of yen.

But residents in both prefectures are worried the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the batteries’ radar systems will pose a health risk. In addition, residents in Akita fear the city’s center — just a few kilometers away from the installation site — will be targeted in a military conflict.

In the meantime, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masako Mori of Fukushima retained her seat Sunday after campaigning on platforms to eliminate nuclear power from the disaster-hit prefecture.

Mori, 54, defeated her key opponent in the three-way race, Sachiko Mizuno, 57, who ran as the opposition camp’s unified candidate, NHK said.

With the campaign for the single-seat constituency effectively turning into a one-on-one race, both Mori and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who campaigned for her as LDP president, admitted she was in for a tough time because of the March 2011 nuclear crisis.

Reflecting local concerns about nuclear power, the LDP’s Fukushima chapter set out goals of scrapping all reactors in the prefecture and accumulating knowledge and expertise on the decommissioning process.

In contrast to the prefectural chapter, however, the basic energy program compiled by Abe’s government counts nuclear power as an important power source. The LDP’s policy pledges for the election also include plans to reactivate nuclear reactors.

The LDP has recently suffered losses in national elections in Fukushima, where the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, as a result of the deadly March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami, became the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

In the 2017 House of Representatives election, an LDP candidate was defeated in the Fukushima No. 1 district, which includes the capital.

In the 2016 Upper House election, then-Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki lost his seat as well.

“I’m determined to push ahead with reconstruction following your requests,” Mori, the vice chair of the LDP’s Headquarters for Accelerating Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake, said in the prefectural capital on July 4 just after campaigning for the election officially kicked off.

“I’ll do my best to achieve the goal of decommissioning all nuclear reactors in the prefecture,” she said.

The candidacy of Mizuno, the opposition candidate, was decided in April by a forum comprising the prefectural chapters of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Democratic Party for the People and Social Democratic Party, as well as unaffiliated lawmakers elected from Fukushima and the Fukushima chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo Fukushima).

Information from Jiji added