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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Liberal Democratic Party are taking stock of what went wrong after a ruling bloc-backed candidate was defeated in an Upper House by-election on Sunday — just one week before the Oct. 31 general election.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and Democratic Party for the People (DPP) are hoping their candidate’s victory in the Shizuoka by-election will provide a lift to their candidates next Sunday.

A separate by-election in Yamaguchi Prefecture brought some good news for the ruling coalition, however, with a candidate backed by the LDP and its partner Komeito recording a substantial victory over one supported by the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).

The Shizuoka and Yamaguchi by-elections were the first votes to be held under Kishida’s leadership, and the loss in Shizuoka was a particularly tough blow. Kishida had visited the prefecture twice to campaign for the LDP-backed candidate.

“The result was caused by an accumulation of various factors. I would like to analyze the results carefully,” Kishida said, describing the result as disappointing.

The LDP’s Yohei Wakayabashi, 49, ran against independent Shinnosuke Yamazaki, 40. Although the CDP and the JCP have agreed not to run candidates against each other in the general election in most cases, the JCP also fielded a candidate in the Shizuoka by-election: Chika Suzuki, 50.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida campaigns with the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate, Yohei Wakabayashi, in Shizuoka on Oct. 7. | KYODO
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida campaigns with the Liberal Democratic Party’s candidate, Yohei Wakabayashi, in Shizuoka on Oct. 7. | KYODO

CDP and DPP voters, many of whom are members of labor organizations backed by the trade union confederation Rengo, especially those connected to the auto industry that support both parties, turned out strongly for Yamazaki.

But Yamazaki also won about 70% of independent voters and had the support of popular Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu, who won the June gubernatorial election with the backing of the CDP and DPP. Part of the reason Kawakatsu supported Yamazaki was due to the governor being at odds with the LDP over the construction of a section of the maglev shinkansen in the prefecture.

In the end, Yamazaki won with 650,789 votes against Wakabayashi’s 602,780, while the JCP’s Suzuki garnered 116,554 votes.

Hirofumi Hirano, who is in charge of the CDP’s election strategy, credited cooperation between Rengo, the CDP and the DPP for Yamazaki’s victory.

“The fact that an opposition candidate won in Shizuoka Prefecture — known as an area used for marketing to test the public’s preferences — suggests that there is growing distrust toward the ruling bloc throughout the country,” he said.

DPP head Yuichiro Tamaki, whose party has not joined efforts by the CDP and JCP to rally around unified candidates in the general election due to policy differences with the JCP, said Yamazaki’s decision to officially run without party affiliation was a reason they decided to support him.

Shinnosuke Yamazaki, who was supported by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People, celebrates in the city of Shizuoka on Sunday after winning a House of Councilors by-election in Shizuoka Prefecture. | KYODO
Shinnosuke Yamazaki, who was supported by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People, celebrates in the city of Shizuoka on Sunday after winning a House of Councilors by-election in Shizuoka Prefecture. | KYODO

“After announcing his candidacy as an independent candidate in July, the DPP decided to endorse Yamazaki based on his track record and experience as a local legislator, as well as his strong commitment to national politics,” Tamaki said in a statement Sunday evening.

In the Yamaguchi by-election, Kishida received better news.

The LDP’s Tsuneo Kitamura, 66, won as expected, defeating the JCP’s Kiyo Kawai, 61 — the CDP and DPP decided not to field candidates in the election. Kitamura won 307,894 votes to Kawai’s 92,532.

Kitamura’s victory means the LDP keeps a seat that had been vacated by close Kishida ally Yoshimasa Hayashi. The Yamaguchi by-election was called after Hayashi resigned from the Upper House to run for the more powerful Lower House in the general election.

Voter turnout was 45.57% for the Shizuoka contest and 36.54% for the Yamaguchi race.

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