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Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010


Nagano election gives DPJ respite

The victory of a candidate backed by the Democratic Party of Japan in the gubernatorial election in Nagano Prefecture on Sunday must have come as relief to Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the leadership of the DPJ, because it represents the DPJ's first major local election victory since the July 11 Upper House election, in which it suffered a major defeat. But it was a narrow win. The DPJ should not feel too optimistic about its future prospects.

Mr. Shuichi Abe, also backed by the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party), defeated Mr. Yoshimasa Koshihara backed by the Liberal Democratic Party with a margin of just 5,021 votes — 362,903 votes vs. 357,882 votes. Mr. Takeshi Matsumoto backed by the Japan Communist Party trailed far behind the two with 189,793.

That Mr. Abe had to fight an uphill battle becomes clear if his vote is compared with the DPJ's votes in the Upper House election. On July 11, two DPJ district candidates together got some 510,000 votes against the LDP candidate's some 290,000 votes. In proportional representation, the DPJ won some 400,000 votes against the LDP's some 250,000 votes.

Mr. Abe served as the prefectural government's planning section chief and vice governor from 2001 to 2004 under maverick Gov. Yasuo Tanaka. Mr. Koshihara served as vice governor under Gov. Jin Murai, who has just resigned. The voter turnout was only 52.70 percent, worse than the record-low 54.05 percent in 1992, apparently because the election was held just one month after the Upper House election.

To re-energize itself, the DPJ should take a cue from Mr. Abe. Based on his experience of serving as deputy secretary general of the DPJ government's Government Revitalization Unit, he stressed his reform-oriented stance. He said that he will rigorously scrutinize projects in Nagano Prefecture to cut waste. He also said he will make the prefectural administration transparent by disclosing information. In the national level politics, the DPJ must maintain elements of its policies and style that are clearly distinguished from the LDP and convincingly present them.

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