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Japan’s LDP battles to avoid ‘total defeat’ in midterm elections; Opposition party guards against overconfidence

Yomiuri Shimbun Photos
Left: Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, delivers a campaign speech in Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture on Sunday. Right: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks in Okuizumo, Shimane Prefecture on Sunday.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party candidate is trailing his opponent in the House of Representatives by-election to be held on Sunday for the Shimane No. 1 constituency, a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey shows.

The LDP is focusing on defending its Shimane district seat after deciding not to field candidates in the two other constituencies that will be contested in a by-election. Prime Minister and LDP President Fumio Kishida is working hard to avoid a comprehensive defeat in the midterm elections, while the increasingly powerful Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan – the leading opposition party – is wary of falling at the final hurdle .

“These elections test whether we will pass on the will and spirit of our predecessors,” Kishida said in a speech in Shimane Prefecture on Sunday in support of Norimasa Nishikori, the LDP-backed candidate. In his speech, Kishida mentioned the names of local politicians, including former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki.

While traveling through the prefecture, Kishida made five unscheduled stops, taking the unusual action of getting out of his car to shake hands with local residents and have his photo taken.

The LDP decided not to field candidates in the Tokyo No. 15 and Nagasaki No. 3 constituencies. Instead, the party is focusing on Shimane’s No. 1 district, where the party has never lost a seat since the Lower House elections of 1996, when the single-seat constituency system was introduced.

However, the party is facing strong headwinds, mainly due to the political fundraising scandal involving some of its factions. Kishida had to apologize in three speeches he gave that day.

“We have created public distrust at this important time when these elections are being held. “I would like to sincerely apologize,” he said.

During interactions with locals in Yasugi prefecture, one participant said: “As a party member, I feel ashamed because of the politics-and-money scandal. Shimane Prefecture is no longer the ‘kingdom of conservative forces.’

The LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, which also backs Nishikori, sent Electoral Policy Committee Chairman Makoto Nishida to the prefecture on Sunday. However, party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi has no plans to visit during the campaign period. An LDP member said Komeito is apparently taking a cautious stance and concluding that the LDP candidate is at a disadvantage.

CDPJ: Overconfidence can be dangerous

In contrast, the CDPJ appears animated as it could potentially win all three seats in the midterm elections.

CDPJ chief Kenta Izumi was in the prefectural capital Matsue on Sunday to support party candidate Akiko Kamei. “Komeito supporters and those who supported the LDP, let us stand up together. This is a big battle to reform politics,” he said in a speech.

Under Izumi’s leadership, CDPJ-backed candidates were defeated in all by-elections for both the Upper House and the Lower House in 2022 and 2023. If the party manages to win all the seats this time, it will give the CDPJ a boost in the run-up to the elections. the next House of Representatives elections.

But party members are not trying to get ahead of themselves. “Our party tends to fall at the last hurdle, and the LDP is making serious last-ditch efforts. Overconfidence is dangerous to the end,” said a senior party member.

Brace yourself for a bad outcome

Prime Minister Kishida will seek re-election as LDP president in September, when his current term ends. To break the deadlock, Kishida is reportedly considering dissolving the lower house before the end of the current parliamentary session in June.

If the LDP loses all the seats up for grabs in Sunday’s midterm elections, an increasing number of party members will inevitably worry about holding elections for the House of Commons with Kishida at the helm.

“If the party is seriously defeated in the by-elections, it will be difficult to dissolve the lower house,” said a veteran lawmaker.

However, there are no signs that moves to oust Kishida would immediately gain momentum even if the outcome of the midterm elections is unfavorable. Many lawmakers distancing themselves from Kishida assume that the party presidential elections will be the main battleground for determining the LDP’s leadership, and they will be closely watching what happens to the Cabinet’s approval rating.

The main focus in the second half of the current session will be on amending the Political Funds Control Act to prevent the recurrence of political fundraising scandals.

A close aide to Kishida provided protection from attacks due to poor prospects in the midterm elections. “Whatever the outcome of the by-elections, the Prime Minister has no choice but to do what he has to do, such as revising the Political Funds Control Act and wage increases.”

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