Japan’s ruling party loses special election in blow to PM Kishida

Japan’s ruling party lost a special election Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had described in part as a judgment on himself, months ahead of a party leadership vote.

Public anger over a slush-fund scandal helped the main opposition candidate Akiko Kamei defeat the Liberal Democratic Party’s Norimasa Nishikori by about 83,000 votes to 58,000 in what had been a party stronghold in Shimane prefecture.

The LDP ceded two more seats in districts where it didn’t field candidates, one in Tokyo and the other in Nagasaki.

The losses come as Kishida struggles to rebuild support for his cabinet amid voter discontent over inflation as well as the scandal. The defeats may discourage him from calling a general election ahead of a party leadership vote in September, where he risks being replaced.

“This will be a great blow to the prime minister,” said Shigenobu Tamura, a former LDP staffer turned political commentator, who added it would be difficult for the premier to run for a second term as party leader if support for his cabinet remains low.

A swathe of recent polls has shown voter dissatisfaction with Kishida’s handling of party members’ failure to record part of their income.

The premier earlier this month ordered two senior lawmakers seen as among the worst offenders to resign from the party and imposed lesser penalties on dozens of others.

Despite a largely positive response to his summit with Joe Biden this month, three surveys conducted in April showed approval for Kishida’s cabinet was well below the 30 per cent threshold often seen as marking the danger zone for a Japanese premier.

Polls carried out by the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers found support had ticked up by four and five percentage points, respectively, versus the previous month, while the Yomiuri newspaper found approval unchanged at 25 per cent.

Surveys show dissatisfaction with the LDP hasn’t translated into widespread enthusiasm for the CDP, even though it picked up all three seats this time. Support for the party remained in single figures in two of the polls, while inching up by two percentage points to 15 per cent in the Mainichi survey. No general election needs be held for more than a year.

Among the issues overshadowing the Shimane vote was nuclear power, with plans in place to restart Chugoku Electric Power’s Shimane No 2 atomic plant in August. The CDP has pledged to phase out nuclear power.

Additional reporting by Associated Press



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