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Opposition-backed candidate for governor in Shizuoka; Latest defeat for LDP means another blow for Kishida

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Hamamatsu Mayor Yasutomo Suzuki speaks to supporters in Shizuoka after his victory in Shizuoka’s gubernatorial election on Sunday seemed certain.

A former Hamamatsu mayor backed by opposition parties won Sunday’s Shizuoka gubernatorial election, dealing a fresh blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government.

Yasutomo Suzuki, 66, is an independent candidate backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the People’s Democratic Party. Suzuki defeated five contenders, including former Shizuoka vice governor Shinichi Omura, 60, an independent who was backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

This setback for the LDP came after it effectively lost three midterm elections for the House of Representatives in April.

LDP members are increasingly convinced that an early dissolution of the lower house would be difficult. After this series of election defeats, it seems inevitable that pressure within the party will increase on Kishida, who is also president of the LDP, not to dissolve the lower house before the party’s presidential elections in the fall.

The prospects for the government’s governance are becoming increasingly bleak.

Wound deepens

“The mentality is likely to spread that it will be difficult to contest elections under the prime minister,” a minister said on Sunday. The minister hinted that steps to find a new LDP president would accelerate ahead of the elections.

A senior LDP official also expressed concern, saying: “A premature dissolution of the Diet is impossible. The LDP could lose power.”

The Shizuoka gubernatorial election was considered by the ruling and opposition parties as a crucial race that would impact the management of the government, as it was held after the LDP suffered a serious setback in the April 28 midterm elections.

Some members of the government and the LDP had argued that it would not be necessary for the ruling party to compete against headwinds, so the LDP initially considered abandoning its support for Omura, who the party’s local prefecture proposed supporting .

However, the LDP decided to support him on May 8, the day before the official campaign for the gubernatorial elections started.

“Even if we limit our support for him to the prefectural chapter level, it would be considered a defeat for the LDP,” a party official said at the time. “If he gets the support of the party headquarters and wins the elections, the atmosphere around the Kishida government will completely change.”

Pushed by this argument from many LDP directors, Kishida decided to take a chance. However, this caused the ‘wound’ that the party had already suffered to become even deeper.

Deja vu of the Suga era

This series of defeats for the LDP in midterm elections for parliamentary seats and local elections is reminiscent of political developments in 2021 when former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was in power.

Under Suga, the LDP was defeated in by-elections for both the parliamentary chambers and in a re-held election for the House of Councilors in Hiroshima Prefecture in April 2021, as well as in the Yokohama mayoral election in August of the year.

Combined with the party’s defeat in the then Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections, efforts to seek a “new face” for the LDP gained momentum. As a result, Suga was forced to abandon her participation in the LDP presidential elections in September.

Yokohama is Suga’s home base, and at the time of the LDP presidential race, terms for members of the House of Commons were due to expire the following month. The current terms for the House of Representatives expire in October next year, so there is some room for maneuver.

“Kishida will not suffer as much damage as Suga,” said a former cabinet member close to Kishida.

Remedial measures

Nevertheless, Kishida has been severely criticized for violations of the Political Funds Control Law involving LDP factions. With limited time and opportunities to recover before the party leadership race, Kishida’s path to re-election is difficult.

One LDP heavyweight said: “He may not even be able to run for party chairmanship.”

Many observers believe that if Kishida decides to dissolve the lower house to break the deadlock, major steps will be taken to remove him from power and the situation will be out of control.

Kishida apparently hopes that the lump sum tax cuts due to be implemented in June will support his government. However, a government plan to require the amount of tax cuts to be shown on pay slips has not been well received. The LDP’s position on revisions to the Political Funds Control Act also failed to gain public support.

“If we take unnecessary steps in haste, we will end up digging our own grave,” said a source close to the prime minister. “We have no choice but to steadily pursue our policy measures and work to regain support.”



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