Campaigning for vacant Upper House seats has begun in Nagano and Hiroshima, with the outcomes of the April 25 by-elections likely to affect Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s leadership and his plan to call a general election that must be held by fall. Although with a fourth wave of infections developing, the odds of a poll before the Olympics now appear to be near zero.

The campaign for a free Lower House seat in Hokkaido, also April 25, begins Tuesday. With scandals involving then-Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers prompting two of the three polls, the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is seeking to make them the focus of the campaigns.

All three elections will be tests of opposition parties’ ability to cooperate ahead of the general election. But the smaller Democratic Party of the People is threatening to play a spoiler role as it shows an independent streak, even running against the main opposition CDP in the Hokkaido poll.

The Democratic Party for the People hold a party meeting on April 2 in Tokyo. | KYODO
The Democratic Party for the People hold a party meeting on April 2 in Tokyo. | KYODO

With Suga’s LDP predicted to come out badly in the April votes, they can count themselves lucky that former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai didn’t resign his Diet seat earlier than he did, which could have triggered a fourth poll the same day. Was this a tactical move by Kawai to help his party or harm them? Both theories are out there, writes Philip Brasor in Media Mix, and time may tell which — if any — is correct.

Meanwhile at the health ministry and its affiliates, the partying goes on. A group of 21 people at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases attended a farewell party in mid-March, when a state of emergency was still in place in Tokyo, health minister Norihisa Tamura admitted Friday.

“Although measures against infections were appropriately taken, it aroused public mistrust,” he said. Just a day earlier, the ministry said that three of the 23 ministry workers who came under fire for holding a different, late-night farewell party last month have tested positive for the coronavirus.