Asia Japanese voters endorse government candidates

Japanese voters endorse government candidates

Japanese Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) President Shinzo Abe delivers his speech during the LDP convention in Tokyo on March 8, 2015
Japanese Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) President Shinzo Abe delivers his speech during the LDP convention in Tokyo on March 8, 2015

(AA) – The party of Japan’s premier regards Sunday’s local elections as an endorsement of its policies, although only two out of ten gubernatorial contests pitted Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) against an opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) member.

Against a record low voter turnout of 47 percent, the LDP swept the board, many of its candidates fighting the election with little or no formal opposition.

At stake besides the ten governor’s posts were 2,284 assembly seats in prefectural legislatures, and 1,022 in municipal legislatures. The LDP won roughly half of the seats, with the rest going to the DPJ and other opposition parties including the communists

“We enjoyed good results; we want to keep up the momentum,” said Toshimitsu Motegi, who managed the provincial elections for the LDP.

Provincial elections are often harbingers of a party’s success in national elections. So the party was encouraged that the sentiments will spill over in elections to the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan’s bicameral parliament, even though the election is more than a year away.

Abe’s plan to revise the American-written constitution depends on winning a two-thirds majority in the upper house to submit changes to a national referendum. With its coalition partner, Komeito, it already has a two-thirds majority in the lower chamber.

The vote is also a harbinger of success for the LDP in the next round of provincial elections, which will be held April 26, when much attention will be given to the results in Tokyo assembly elections. The DPJ’s poor showing in the last election previewed its lack of success on the national level.

The victory was especially sweet coming on the heels of a disastrous outcome in the vote for governor of Okinawa, in which a sitting LDP governor — who favors a plan to relocate American troops on the island — lost to an opponent of the plan. The Okinawa election could surely complicate Tokyo’s relations with the U.S.

Still, it can be difficult to make generalizations from an election with such a low turnout. Further complicating the matter, there were many non-contested seats in six of the governor’s races, in which the winning candidate was backed by both the LDP and the DPJ or another party – the only opposition coming from the communists.

A peculiarity of the Japanese electoral system is that gubernatorial candidates run technically as independents “backed” by one or more of the major parties. Candidacies supported by both the government and opposition are common.

Additionally, the two winning candidates that did have an opponent, Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi and Oita Governor Katsusada Hirose, were both well-entrenched incumbents running for their fourth terms.

The election did show that the opposition DPJ, severely weakened in the last two national general elections, has yet to regain its moxie. It actually lost seats, going to 264 seats in provincial assemblies from 317.

The only bright spot for the opposition party was the surprising victory for the mayor of Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido prefecture. The deputy mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, backed by the DPJ and the Japan Innovation Party defeated the LDP–backed candidate.

Of five mayor races, the contest in Sapporo was the only one fought between ruling and opposition parties.

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