Japan's ruling party loses all 3 seats in special vote, seen as punishment for corruption scandal

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s governing party appears to have lost all three seats in Sunday’s parliamentary by-elections

Mari Yamaguchi
Sunday 28 April 2024 16:55 BST

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s governing party, stung by an extensive slush funds scandal, appeared to have lost all three seats in Sunday's parliamentary by-elections, according to media exit polls and preliminary results.

The Liberal Democratic Party's loss is considered a voter punishment for its links to a yearslong corruption saga that erupted last year and has undermined Kishida’s leadership. His party's loss of power is unlikely, however, because of the fractured opposition.

“The results were extremely severe,” LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters in Tokyo. “We humbly accept the severe 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 liberal-leaning main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) was certain to win all three seats in Shimane, Nagasaki and Tokyo, according to exit polls by national NHK television, Kyodo News and other media.

CPDJ leader Kenta Izumi 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 early national elections if reforms by the governing party are too slow.

The loss in the Shimane prefecture was especially shocking to the governing party and could undermine Kishida’s clout, as LDP lawmakers may try to bring him down to put a new face ahead of the next general election. Such a move would dash Kishida's hope for running in the party presidential race in September for another three-year term. He can call the election any time before the current term for the lower house expires in October 2025.

Kishida has fought plummeting support ratings since the corruption scandal erupted last year. He has removed a number of Cabinet ministers and others from party executive posts, conducted internal hearings and drafted reform measures, but support ratings for his government have dwindled to around 20%.

The scandal centers on unreported political funds raised through tickets sold for party events. It led to 10 people — lawmakers and their aides — being indicted in January.

More than 80 governing party lawmakers, most of them belonging to a major party faction previously led by assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have acknowledged not reporting funds in a possible violation of the Political Funds Control Law. The money received from the long-term practice is alleged to have gone into unmonitored slush funds.

In Sunday's by-elections, LDP did not field own candidates in the Tokyo and Nagasaki districts because of the apparent low support for the party. It focused instead on defending the seat in the Shimane district that was vacated by the death of former LDP House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, who was also linked to a number of alleged irregularities, including the slush funds.

Akiko Kamei, a CDPJ candidate who beat former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Norimasa Nishikori from LDP, said her victory in Shimane, known as a “conservative kingdom,” sent a “big message” to 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.

Final results are expected early Monday.

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