The Democratic Party of Japan was routed in the first round of unified local elections on Sunday — following its defeat in the July 2010 Upper House election. The DPJ failed to win governorships in Tokyo, Mie — which is DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada’s stronghold — and Hokkaido, which is former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s stronghold. In elections for 41 prefectural assemblies, the DPJ’s strength was slashed from a pre-election level of 415 seats to 346 — about one third the number of seats that the Liberal Democratic Party won.
The Sunday election results should be taken as a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Naoto Kan, indicating people’s concerns about his ability to mobilize Japan’s resources to help people affected by the March 11 quake and tsunami, reconstruct the disaster-struck areas and overcome the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. He may have to consider resigning in the near future.
Although the DPJ was battered, other parties should refrain from harboring a false sense of security. The LDP’s strength in the 41 assemblies was diminished from 1,247 seats to 1,119, the Japan Communist Party from 94 to 80 and the Social Democratic Party from 50 to 30.
Komeito increased its strength from 167 to 171 seats. But a Komeito incumbent failed to win re-election in Osaka, the party’s stronghold. Your Party ran 103 candidates but only won 41 seats, though it made significant gains from its pre-election strength of 11 seats. The election results show that the traditional parties need to improve their ability to understand and respond to the needs of the people.
By taking advantage of voters’ dissatisfaction with the traditional parties’ performances, local parties created by local government heads made gains. A party led by Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto won 57 seats to achieve a majority in the 109-member Osaka prefectural assembly and became the No. 1 party in the 86-member Osaka city assembly after winning 33 seats. These local parties threaten to turn assemblies into a rubber stamp for local government heads. The traditional parties must hone their policy-making abilities to counter the local parties’ populist appeal.