Japan’s ruling party loses key by-elections in blow to scandal-tainted PM Kishida

Fumio Kishida risks losing party’s leadership ahead of next year’s national election

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Monday 29 April 2024 11:56 BST
Related: Japan’s prime minister says country will restart idled nuclear plants

Japan's ruling party has lost all three seats in parliamentary by-elections in a setback for prime minister Fumio Kishida as he battles a major government corruption scandal.

The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost the House of Representatives seats for Shimane, Tokyo and Nagasaki to the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPL) led by leftist lawmaker Kenta Izumi.

The loss is seen as sounding alarm bells for Mr Kishida who is seeking reelection as his party's leader in the autumn. It is also seen as punishment for the LPD scandal, which has eroded public trust and undermined Mr Kishida's leadership.

“The results were extremely severe,” LDP secretary general Toshimitsu Motegi said. “We humbly accept the results and we will do our utmost to regain the trust from the public as we continue our effort to reform and tackle the challenges.”

The LDP held all three seats previously but did not field its own candidates in Tokyo and Nagasaki fearing low support. The party had strategised to defend its fief in Shimane district, where a by-election was necessitated due to former LDP house speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda’s death.

Hosoda was one of the lawmakers linked to the slush fund scandal, which is now under formal investigation.

The ruling party has been facing flak since last November when it was revealed that a slew of politicians had been transferring campaign funds into untracked slush accounts.

Mr Kishida’s party was reportedly concerned that public anger over the scandal could end its government at the next national election, which must be held before 30 October 2025.

Akiko Kamei of the CDPJ said her victory against former finance ministry bureaucrat Norimasa Nishikori of the LDP in Shimane, known as a conservative stronghold, was a big message to Mr Kishida.

"I believe the voters' anger over LDP's slush funds problem and the lack of improvement in daily lives in the prefecture became support for me," she said.

Mr Izumi, the CPDJ leader, said the by-elections were about political reforms. "There are many voters across the country who also want to show similar views," he said, adding that he will seek an early national election if the ruling party's reforms are too slow.

The LDP, on its part, could install a new leader in Mr Kishida’s place ahead of the national election. Such a move would dash Mr Kishida's hope of leading the party for another three-year term.

As prime minister, he can call a snap election any time before the current term for the lower house expires in October 2025.

To rectify his public image, Mr Kishida has removed several cabinet ministers and party executives, conducted internal hearings, and drafted reform measures. Still, the approval ratings of his government have dwindled to around 20 per cent.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in