Tokyo election results bring bad news for Japanese prime minister
ELECTIONS IN TOKYO often predict nationals. In 2009, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan triumphed in the capital before sweeping the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power in national elections later that year. This year, too, the signs are bad for the LDP. Party leaders had hoped to win 50 or more of the 127 seats in the Legislative Assembly in the July 4 election. the LDP limped at home with just 33, a slight improvement from a historic beating in 2017, but still his second worst performance ever. The result leaves the Tokyo assembly divided among several parties, and the LDPThe leader of, Suga Yoshihide, who is also the prime minister, looks increasingly vulnerable ahead of a contest for his party’s presidency and national parliamentary elections in the fall.
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The flop reflects Tokyoites’ frustration with the government’s handling of the two issues that are of concern to voters: the Olympics, which will kick off in the city on July 23, and covid-19, which is of great concern to them. The rate of inoculations has at least accelerated. Japan now puts needles in over a million arms a day. Yet only 16% of Japanese over 12 are fully immunized, a lower proportion than all 38 members of the OECD, a club mainly from rich countries. This might worry voters less if Tokyo weren’t on the verge of welcoming tens of thousands of athletes, administrators and enthusiasts from over 200 countries. Polls show that nearly two-thirds of Japanese people would like to see matches canceled or held without fans.
The Tokyo results could “destabilize” Mr. Suga’s position at the head of the LDP, explains Uchiyama Yu of the University of Tokyo. Mr Suga took office last year after his predecessor, Abe Shinzo, resigned due to health concerns. He must stand for his entire term as a LDP president in September. Although he and his cabinet initially enjoyed wide support, approval rates have since fallen from 74% to around 40%. Tellingly, Mr. Suga himself did not campaign in Tokyo; instead, the party sent other more popular personalities. Despite this, nearly half of the party’s candidates were rejected by voters. Poor quality results come after LDP-supported candidates lost in six special by-elections for Diet seats and governors earlier this year. Mr Suga now has to hope that quick progress on vaccinations and maybe a few gold medals for Japan will change the mood.
He can also take comfort in the fact that Tokyo is no longer as reliable an omen as it once was. The city’s electoral dynamics have become more complicated since the emergence in 2017 of Tomin First No Kai (Tokyoites First), the party of the People’s Governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko, former LDP heavy weights. At just six months old, the party took control of the capital’s assembly, and it looked like Ms Koike’s new strength might even meet a challenge to the LDPnational domination of. But Tomin First failed in the Diet elections that year and never gained popularity outside of Tokyo. Ms Koike, who is said to have ambitions for higher office, recently joined the LDP, perhaps acknowledging that the road to national power still goes through his old party. His ambiguous position is probably one of the reasons Tomin First lost 14 of the 45 seats he held.
Even though Mr. Suga joins a long list of short-lived Japanese prime ministers, there is a limit to the weakness of LDP can get away with it. There are no nationwide Tomin-style spoilers. The turnout in Tokyo was only 42%, the second lowest level on record. But in general elections, the low turnout favors LDP and Komeito, his coalition partner, who have strong networks and infrastructure to get their constituents out. More importantly, the main opposition parties are deeply unpopular. “We have no alternative political forces apart from the LDP,Says Toshikawa Takao, editor-in-chief of Inner line, a political bulletin. In Japan, dissatisfaction breeds apathy, not change.■
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Tokyo drifts”