Tokyo votes in local elec­tions with na­tional con­se­quences Embattled Ja­pan PM set for a ma­jor de­feat

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Embattled Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s con­ser­va­tive party was set for a ma­jor de­feat in the Tokyo assem­bly elec­tion yesterday, exit polls showed, as he strug­gles with a se­ries of set­backs and scan­dals that have driven down his pop­u­lar­ity at the na­tional level. For­mer TV an­chor­woman Yuriko Koike, who was elected the city’s gover­nor in a land­slide last year, was ex­pected to seize a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity of the 127-seat Tokyo assem­bly, which the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party pre­vi­ously con­trolled but is now brac­ing for a his­toric de­feat.

While the vote is local, it serves as an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor of na­tional po­lit­i­cal sen­ti­ment. “Forces sup­port­ing Koike pro­jected to take ma­jor­ity” of the cham­ber, na­tional broad­caster NHK said im­me­di­ately af­ter vot­ing ended at 8:00 pm (1100 GMT). “The LDP set for se­ri­ous de­feat,” and may re­duce its seats to a his­toric low, NHK said. The broad­caster pro­jected that a coali­tion un­der Koike would win 73 to 85 seats in the cham­ber. The LDP was pro­jected to drop from 57 to less than 38 seats-the low­est num­ber of seats the con­ser­va­tive party had held in the cap­i­tal since 2009.

Koike, who has also served as de­fense and en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, has ap­proval rat­ings top­ping 60 per­cent and is al­ready been spo­ken of by an­a­lysts as a po­ten­tial fu­ture prime min­is­ter, as Abe bat­tles a crony­ism scan­dal. The en­er­getic 64-yearold quit the LDP last month to lead the newly-formed Tomin First no Kai (Tokyo Res­i­dents First). Koike has pledged to rein in over­spend­ing on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and has up­ended po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion by al­low­ing tele­vi­sion cam­eras into what were tra­di­tion­ally closed-door city govern­ment meet­ing. She man­aged to forge an al­liance with the Komeito party, a Bud­dhist-backed mod­er­ate group that has long sided with Abe in na­tional pol­i­tics.

“I am grate­ful that peo­ple of Tokyo have af­firmed our achieve­ments so far,” Koike said in tele­vised re­marks as me­dia be­gan fore­cast­ing her mas­sive win. “This is the mo­ment when we re­in­state rea­son­able, com­mon-sense pol­i­tics in Tokyo,” she said. A to­tal of 259 can­di­dates ran for seats in the male-dom­i­nated cham­ber that ad­min­is­ters the city of nearly 14 mil­lion peo­ple. The vote came as Abe, who was elected prime min­is­ter in late 2012, suf­fers a se­ries of set­backs and faces loud crit­i­cism for ram­ming con­tro­ver­sial and un­pop­u­lar leg­is­la­tion through par­lia­ment.

In the last week, his de­fense min­is­ter To­momi Inada was in hot wa­ter over re­marks she made at a local LDP rally. She asked for vot­ers’ sup­port and said it was a re­quest from her min­istry and the SelfDe­fense Forces, Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary. The SDF is sup­posed to be po­lit­i­cally neu­tral, and Inada re­tracted the re­mark. Abe, 62, is also un­der fire over al­le­ga­tions he showed fa­voritism to a friend in a business deal. The claims come a few months af­ter the con­ser­va­tive pre­mier was forced to deny he had con­nec­tions to the con­tro­ver­sial di­rec­tor of a school which had pur­chased govern­ment land at a huge dis­count-and counted Abe’s wife as its hon­orary prin­ci­pal.

LDP’s Tokyo chief Hakubun Shi­mo­mura, a na­tional law­maker, ad­mit­ted “mis­spo­ken words” and other mistakes cost the party the elec­tion. “This is very tough. Be­yond what we ex­pected,” Shi­mo­mura told NHK. “We will re­flect on this and we will make ef­forts at na­tional pol­i­tics to re­gain trust of the Ja­panese pub­lic and Tokyo pub­lic,” he said. It pro­vided a sharp con­trast with the last Tokyo elec­tion in 2013, when all of the LDP’s 57 can­di­dates won seats as Abe rode high in the polls and pushed a plan to kick­start Ja­pan’s long-slum­ber­ing econ­omy.

A re­cent poll by pub­lic broad­caster NHK showed Abe’s govern­ment had a 48 per­cent sup­port rat­ing, down three per­cent­age points from a month ear­lier. His dis­ap­proval rat­ing rose six per­cent­age points to 36 per­cent, the sur­vey showed. Many Tokyo res­i­dents have ap­plauded her ap­proach to shak­ing up the con­ser­va­tive local po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. “From what I see, the Tokyo assem­bly (dom­i­nated by the LDP) is se­ri­ously old fash­ioned and needs to change,” said voter Yoshikazu Niwa, 67, who voiced his sup­port for Koike. —AFP

TOKYO: Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike waves to a crowd dur­ing her Tomin First no Kai, or Toky­oites First party’s cam­paign rally for Tokyo Assem­bly elec­tion in Tokyo. —AP

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