Read Full Story Here Home > News > Full Story

News

DPJ headed for another election setback, this time in regional polls

Shintaro Ishihara in April 2007, after being re-elected to his third term as Tokyo governor. (Mainichi)
Shintaro Ishihara in April 2007, after being re-elected to his third term as Tokyo governor. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is headed for another election setback Sunday, losing ground in local contests overshadowed by the crisis triggered by the earthquake-tsunami disaster a month ago.

Politicians linked to the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party are headed for victory over candidates affiliated with the DPJ in gubernatorial showdowns in Tokyo and Hokkaido as well as the mayoral race in Hiroshima as results are taking shape across the country.

Exit polls and early vote counting suggest DPJ-linked incumbent prefectural governors are assured of victory in Tokyo and Hokkaido. Fellow LDP-backed incumbents are certain to be reelected in at least four other prefectures in the absence of rivals from the DPJ.

The DPJ is also struggling in the mayoral election in Hiroshima, as a former vice mayor supported by the ruling party appears likely to crumble at the hands of an LDP-linked newcomer.

The situation could deal a harsh blow to the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose leadership has been called into question, particularly in relation to the handling of relief for disaster victims and the ongoing crisis at the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Kan's DPJ swept to power in the August 2009 general election in a landslide but suffered a stinging setback in the House of Councillors election last July, which was seen as a referendum on the party's governance. Pressure was mounting for him to resign as the nation's top leader before the disaster struck on March 11.

In this March 25, 2011 photo, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan gives a speech during a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, two weeks after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
In this March 25, 2011 photo, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan gives a speech during a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, two weeks after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

In the contest for Tokyo governor, the main focus of Sunday's 12 gubernatorial races, Shintaro Ishihara, 78, was elected to a fourth four-year term with an easy win over his challengers including Miki Watanabe, founder and former chairman of a restaurant chain operator, and former Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru.

Ishihara was supported by the LDP and the New Komeito party, while Watanabe was backed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members of the DPJ.

In Hokkaido, LDP-backed incumbent Harumi Takahashi, 57, is certain to retain her governorship, heading for a comfortable win over DPJ-baked Toshiaki Kimura and three other newcomers.

Of Sunday's 12 gubernatorial races, in which nine incumbents and 30 newcomers were running, the DPJ and the LDP have faced off squarely in only three prefectures. In contrast to the races in Tokyo and Hokkaido, the election in Mie has proved to be a close contest.

Incumbents' dominance was prominent in other gubernatorial races with victory projected in Fukui, where nuclear power policies were at the center of the campaign agenda, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima, Saga and Oita. New governors were to be picked from among newcomers in Kanagawa and Fukuoka.

In four mayoral elections held Sunday, the DPJ managed to gain in Sapporo but lost in Hiroshima in a poll to choose the successor to Tadatoshi Akiba, who is known for his campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons and did not run after the expiration of his third four-year term in office.

Sapporo and Hiroshima are among Japan's 19 designated cities which have similar functions as prefectural governments.

A Kyodo News survey taken along with exit polls found that voters are inclined toward shunning DPJ candidates should a general election was staged in the immediate future, with 30.7 percent of the respondents in favor of the main opposition party to 16.0 percent for the DPJ.

Elsewhere, vote counting was progressing for assembly members in 41 prefectures and 15 of the country's major cities in the first of two unified rounds of regional polls slated for this month.

The earthquake-triggered crisis deeply cast shadows on Sunday's polls.

Candidates shied away from vigorous campaigning in a widespread mood of self-restraint in light of the 27,000 people left dead or unaccounted for following the quake and ensuing tsunami, together with the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

The election campaign agenda had been expected to revolve around such issues as how to revitalize local economies to the devolution of power from the central government. Showdowns between the DPJ and the main opposition LDP were also among the initial focus along with how emerging local political parties would perform.

But much of the attention apparently shifted to disaster relief and nuclear energy policies, reflecting the magnitude of the multiple disasters that forced local officials to take some unusual steps.

Polling was put off in hard-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, while in the Chiba Prefecture city of Urayasu, just east of Tokyo, the election board refused to accept votes Sunday for prefectural assembly seats citing an urgent need to repair soil-liquefaction damage caused by the magnitude-9.0 quake.

Political observers said during the campaigns that swing voters would hold the key in many of the gubernatorial races, particularly at a time when public interest in this month's local elections appeared relatively low as the country is wrapped up in the nuclear crisis and its effects on food, water and the environment.

The second round of the local polls to elect mayors and city assembly members is set for April 24, along with a House of Representatives by-election in Aichi Prefecture.

(Mainichi Japan) April 10, 2011

Share  Print print
Text Size
A
A
A
'use strict';