Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s party gained seats in a Tokyo assembly vote Sunday, weeks before the Olympics. But his ruling bloc failed to score a majority, delivering a mixed result ahead of a national vote expected after the games.
Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party and its ally Komeito failed to win a majority of the 127 seats in the closely watched election for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, although the LDP returned as the biggest force in the body.
The LDP and Komeito secured 33 and 23 seats, respectively, for a combined 56 seats. Before the election, the LDP had 25 seats and Komeito 23 seats.
Still, the number of seats won by the LDP this time was the second lowest on record.
The result is expected to deal a blow to the Suga administration as the latest poll has been regarded as a precursor to a Lower House election that must be held by this autumn.
Regional party Tomin First (Tokyoites First), for which Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike serves as special adviser, lost its status as the largest force in the assembly. It won 31 seats, down from 46 seats before the election.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the top opposition party at the national level, and the Japanese Communist Party increased their presence. The CDP secured 15 seats, up from seven, and the JCP 19 seats, up from 18.
A record 38 women candidates were also elected to the assembly, up from 37 in the last election.
With Tomin First losing seats at the expense of other parties, Koike is expected to face increasing difficulties managing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Voter turnout stood at 42.39%, down from 51.28 %in the previous Tokyo assembly election in 2017 and the second lowest on record.
The drop was apparently due to some voters opting not to go to polling stations for fear of contracting the coronavirus.
The election came after Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered three special-election defeats in a single day in April. It also came as virus numbers have been ticking up in the capital, raising worries about whether the government can stem infections before the July 23 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.
Suga has pressed ahead with holding the Olympics despite widespread concern about staging the global sports spectacle during a pandemic. Any serious fallout from the games could mean Suga joins a long list of short-serving Japanese leaders, given voters are already disenchanted with the games. A survey from the Mainichi newspaper among Tokyo residents June 26 found 58% said they opposed the Olympics, compared with 30% in favor.
Suga saw his initially high support crumble after he took office in September amid scandals and criticism of his handling of the coronavirus. His public approval has crept up slightly as the vaccine rollout sped up — a factor likely to be key to success in a party leadership election in September and the general election.
While Japan’s initially delayed vaccine rollout has accelerated, only 12.7% of the population is fully inoculated, leaving many people at risk. Signs of a slowdown in the program are also emerging.
Sunday’s election will not affect Koike’s position as governor, to which she was re-elected for a second four-year term in 2020. After staying out of the public eye for more than a week citing exhaustion, Koike appeared at several Tokyo First events on Saturday, the last day of campaigning.
Despite the result, Taimei Yamaguchi, the LDP’s election strategy chief, voiced determination that the LDP and Komeito will win “at least a majority” in the Lower House election that, according to him, is likely to focus on the government’s COVID-19 response and handling of the economy.
After visiting polling sites, a number of voters signaled the government’s handling of the pandemic had been the biggest issue in the election.
“My focus on this election was the pandemic measures,” a 26-year-old freelance actor, who is deaf, wrote in a note to a reporter outside the polling station. He asked not to be named.
“I picked the candidate who would take actions to save infected people, as I am afraid of losing my job and my income if I get infected,” he said, declining to name the candidate. “I don’t care about political parties.”
Another voter was critical of the LDP’s handling of the pandemic.
“I wanted to give my vote to someone in the opposition as I don’t support the current (national) government,” said Noriko Ushimaru, a woman in her 80s. “They are hopeless in coronavirus responses. I don’t see their determination to curb the virus.”
She said the holding the Tokyo Olympics amid the pandemic and vaccine supply shortages were examples of the government’s inadequate anti-coronavirus measures.
While Japan’s initially delayed vaccine rollout has accelerated, only about 12% of the population is fully inoculated, leaving many people at risk. Signs of a slowdown in the program are also emerging.
A total of 271 people filed their candidacies in the Tokyo assembly race, according to data.
Among them, 60 ran from the LDP, followed by 47 from Tomin First. The JCP and the CDP fielded 31 and 28 candidates, respectively, followed by Komeito with 23, among others.
Sunday’s election will not affect Koike’s position as governor, to which she was re-elected for a second four-year term in 2020. After staying out of the public eye for more than a week citing exhaustion, Koike appeared at several Tomin First events on Saturday, the last day of campaigning.
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