Abe-backed candidate loses local vote after defense change
TOKYO — A candidate backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party lost the first local election to be held since his Cabinet moved to beef up the role of the military by allowing it to defend other nations.
A former lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan won the election for governor of the western prefecture of Shiga, close to the city of Osaka, according to the local government's website. Taizo Mikazuki, 43, Sunday defeated 47- year-old Takashi Koyari, a former Economy Ministry official backed by the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito.
Abe's Cabinet on July 1 passed a resolution reinterpreting the pacifist constitution, which had been viewed as prohibiting the military from defending other nations. An opinion poll conducted by the Yomiuri newspaper on July 2-3 found support for Abe fell 9 percentage points to 48 percent from a survey in June, echoing other polls showing declining support as ordinary people question the move to expand the military's remit.
"What's changed the trend and led to this big election result is emerging public concern about and criticism of the high-handed way he passed a cabinet resolution on collective self-defense," said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based independent political analyst.
Abe said at the start of a meeting Monday with New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi that the election result was "unfortunate" and the ruling coalition must reflect on it.
"The public's understanding isn't sufficient yet," Abe said of the collective self-defense decision, adding that he would continue to explain, including at parliamentary committee meetings this week.
After a July 11 meeting with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel welcomed the Cabinet resolution as a "bold, historic, landmark decision" and said it would enable Japan to "significantly increase its contribution to regional and global security."
Abe's Cabinet, which Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said last week was the longest-lasting without personnel changes since World War Two, had boasted solid support since he took office in December 2012. While Abe need not fight a national election until 2016, he faces high-profile local elections in Fukushima and Okinawa before the end of this year, after a Cabinet revamp that the Yomiuri and other media have reported may come in September.
"If the administration continues to lose local elections after the cabinet reshuffle, the LDP will start to talk about whether they can win the next lower and upper house elections with Abe as leader," Morita said. "If they decide they can't, there will be moves to replace him."
Sumio Mabuchi, who heads the Democratic Party's election committee, said in comments published on the party's website he wanted the victory to serve as the first step in the party's comeback. Media polls show the Democrats' support has been limited to single digits since they lost the 2012 election.