In a Lower House by-election on Sunday in the Kagoshima No. 3 constituency, a Liberal Democratic Party candidate, also supported by Komeito, defeated a candidate of the People’s New Party — a coalition partner of the Democratic Party of Japan — who received full support from the DPJ. The DPJ’s defeat in the first national-level election for the Noda administration is certain to deal a great blow to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. It shows that the recent Cabinet reshuffle failed to buoy his administration, while the scandal involving recently resigned Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka drove down its popularity.

But the LDP shouldn’t be too optimistic about its prospects in the next Lower House election, to be held within a year, because its candidate won only by a mere 5,669 votes despite expectations that it would win by an overwhelming margin. The LDP should not be overconfident on the strength of the by-election result and should not focus on pursuing partisan interests in the Diet.

The Kagoshima election was called because Financial Services Minister Tadahiro Matsushita of the People’s New Party committed suicide on Sept. 10. The contest turned into a feud between Mr. Kazuaki Miyaji of the LDP, who had been elected to the Lower House six times and was defeated by Matsushita in the August 2009 Lower House election, and Mr. Takeshi Noma, Matsushita’s secretary. Mr. Miyaji won 70,694 votes to Mr. Noma’s 65,025.

Both the DPJ and the LDP carried out intensive electioneering by sending party leaders to the constituency. Mr. Noma’s defeat will weaken Mr. Noda’s ability to unify the DPJ. In fact, two Lower House members left the party on Monday to join a party led by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura. If six more DPJ Lower House members leave the party, it will lose its majority in the Diet chamber, making it possible for the opposition forces to pass a no-confidence motion against Mr. Noda.

The defeat will also strengthen a view within the Noda administration and the DPJ that the longer Mr. Noda procrastinates in dissolving the Lower House, the better it will be for them. But such an attitude will only increase conflict with the LPD and Komeito, causing a delay in Diet deliberations on important bills including one to float bonds to cover some 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget.

Voter turnout was 56.60 percent, down 16.35 points from the August 2009 Lower House election. Mr. Miyaji and Mr. Noma displayed few differences on policy matters, a fact no doubt responsible for the lack of voter interest. If parties want to rouse voter interest, they must strive to adopt political platforms that set them apart from their political rivals.

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