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Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006

LDP by-election wins no big deal

Seats inherited with Komeito help; July poll may differ


Staff writer

Liberal Democratic Party candidates won two by-elections Sunday with key support from its coalition partner and amid public worries in the wake of North Korea's recent nuclear test, but the victories may have no bearing on how the LDP fares in next summer's Upper House poll, analysts say.

News photo
Liberal Democratic Party candidates Zentaro Kamei (above) in Kanagawa Prefecture's No. 16 district and Kenji Harada in Osaka Prefecture's No. 9 district celebrate their victories in Sunday's by-elections. KYODO PHOTOS
News photo

The by-elections in Kanagawa and Osaka were considered the first big tests for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP president, and his Cabinet since taking office last month.

But because the by-elections were held to fill seats left vacant by the deaths of LDP members Yoshiyuki Kamei and Takeshi Nishida, the ruling party had the upper hand from the start, said Rei Shiratori, president of the Institute for Political Studies in Japan.

"The (LDP candidates' victory) had little impact on the world of politics as a whole, because the seats were just handed down from one LDP lawmaker to another," Shiratori said. "If the Democratic Party of Japan had won, that would have been a big blow (to the LDP)."

In Kanagawa Prefecture's No. 16 district, Zentaro Kamei from the LDP, the 35-year-old son of the former farm minister, received 109,464 votes, easily outdistancing Yuichi Goto, the candidate of the largest opposition party, the DPJ, who got 80,450 votes.

In Osaka Prefecture's No. 9 district, LDP candidate Kenji Harada, 58, collected 111,226 votes, beating out the DPJ's Nobumori Otani, who got 92,424 votes.

According to Shiratori, a major factor in the LDP sweep was the solid support it received from the LDP's coalition partner, New Komeito, which, in turn, is backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest lay Buddhist organization.

"New Komeito's support deeply influenced the results," Shiratori said. "Especially in Osaka, it would have been very difficult for the LDP to win on its own."

Shiratori also cited Abe's recent fence-mending visits to South Korea and China as a boost for the LDP, along with the threat posed by North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test.

"The nuclear test gave Japan, South Korea and China a common topic for discussion," Shiratori said.

"As a result, the LDP's Asian diplomacy, which was stagnant under (Junichiro) Koizumi, developed swiftly and helped erase" on the domestic front some of the negative effects of the LDP's policies, including the growing disparity between rich and poor, he said.

LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa meanwhile praised the LDP candidates' triumph, calling the by-elections a contest between Abe and the opposition, headed by DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa.

"I believe Prime Minister Abe won the trust of the people," Nakagawa told reporters. "We won because we had principles and (promoted Japan's) national interests."

Although the LDP can relax a bit for now, the victory does not assure a win in next year's Upper House election, Shiratori said.

"Abe had a lucky start . . . and this was a battle fought in the best possible situation for the LDP," he said, adding that with a newly elected prime minister enjoying high popularity and the North Korean nuclear threat, public support naturally gravitated toward the LDP.

On the flip side, the DPJ was hurt by concerns over the health of Ozawa, who was hospitalized for more than a week right after he was reinstalled as party leader at the end of September, said Takayoshi Miyagawa, president of the Center for Political Public Relations Inc.

"For the general public as well as party members, the leader needs to be strong," Miyagawa said, adding the DPJ also lacks detailed policies that appeal to the public.

The reported extramarital affair involving DPJ lawmaker Goshi Hosono was also a blow for the DPJ, he said.

"It is only natural that (the DPJ) would lose female voters" because of the scandal, Miyagawa said.

"The DPJ does not have its own policies if it wins . . . power. Its policy is to put forward arguments against the LDP's policies. But as the opposition party, no one thinks (their plans) are doable, so there is no point."

Analysts say that despite the setbacks for the opposition, they may still end up with a majority in the Upper House after next summer's election. At the moment, the LDP lacks a majority in the chamber, holding 111 out of 242 seats. New Komeito has 24. The DPJ has 82.

"If (the opposition parties obtain a majority), that will be the beginning of the breakdown of (the LDP's) political power," Miyagawa said.



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