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By-election results show opposition parties must cooperate more

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) emerged victorious in the House of Representatives by-elections in the Tokyo No. 10 and Fukuoka No. 6 constituencies on Oct. 23, rekindling debate over a possible dissolution of the lower chamber at an early date.

Masaru Wakasa, 59, of the LDP won the race in the Tokyo No. 10 constituency, while independent Jiro Hatoyama, 37, secured his first lower house term in the Fukuoka No. 6 district. The LDP retrospectively recognized Hatoyama as its official candidate the same day after his victory was assured shortly past 8 p.m.

As the LDP had won both constituencies in the 2014 lower house election, the party couldn't afford to lose in the Oct. 23 races. While the party did manage to clinch the by-elections, it wasn't without a struggle.

The LDP headquarters took caution in fielding candidates in the by-elections. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai determined that the LDP should not maintain a confrontational stance toward Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike ahead of the by-election in the Tokyo No. 10 constituency, the party publicly solicited a candidate and subsequently appointed Wakasa as its official candidate. The move came despite the fact that Wakasa backed Koike in the July Tokyo gubernatorial race in defiance of party policy.

During the campaigning, Koike repeatedly stressed that Wakasa is her successor, and his victory in the race riding on the wave of the Tokyo governor's popularity just proved the LDP's strategy was right.

The LDP's Tokyo chapter has advised seven party members of the Toshima and Nerima ward assemblies to leave the party for backing Koike in the gubernatorial race against party policy, with the deadline set at Oct. 30. However, the LDP headquarters are expecting the Tokyo chapter to reduce the punishment as it aspires to adopt a conciliatory stance toward Koike ahead of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election scheduled for next summer.

On the night of Oct. 23, LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Hakubun Shimomura, who heads the LDP Tokyo chapter, told reporters, "Members of the ward and metropolitan assemblies in the No. 10 constituency worked really hard," adding, "We will consider our response (to the seven assembly members) after examining the election results."

In the Fukuoka No. 6 constituency, newcomers Jiro Hatoyama and Ken Kurauchi, 35, threw their hats into the ring for the by-election race as independents after the LDP failed to decide which candidate to endorse.

Members of Kisaragikai, a cross-factional group in the LDP previously chaired by Hatoyama's late father and former internal affairs and communications minister Kunio Hatoyama, campaigned for him, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who serves as an adviser to the group, donated a poster bearing a prayer for victory to Hatoyama's office.

Kurauchi, meanwhile, was backed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, but fought an uphill battle. An LDP lower house member in the Kurauchi camp lamented during the campaign, "We are more and more behind Hatoyama. I hope no cause of future trouble remains after the election."

The LDP was quick to recognize Hatoyama as its official candidate as soon as his victory was assured on Oct. 23. A senior LDP official emphasized that the move was the final answer for the party even if frustrations would smolder in the LDP's Fukuoka chapter, which backed Kurauchi.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP), meanwhile, suffered setbacks in the by-elections -- the first national elections since Renho took the helm of the party last month. The fact that the two "official DP candidates," as described by Renho, lost in both the Tokyo No. 10 and Fukuoka No. 6 constituencies has raised an issue of election cooperation among the opposition in future races, as those candidates fought without the backing from the fellow opposition Japanese Communist Party (JCP), Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party.

Because the DP had anticipated an uphill battle for both candidates, the party leadership is not facing an immediate need to take responsibility over the election results. That said, the outcome marked a thorny start for Renho, who is expected to serve as the "face of the elections" for her party.

In the Niigata gubernatorial election on Oct. 16, Ryuichi Yoneyama, who was backed by the JCP and two other opposition parties, clinched the race, while the DP opted for a free vote, with Renho only rushing in to deliver a campaign speech for him toward the end of the race. For the Oct. 23 lower house by-elections, however, the DP didn't appear at joint campaign speeches with three other opposition parties in the Tokyo No. 10 and Fukuoka No. 6 constituencies, which were held at the JCP's request. Some DP members are frustrated about their party's "inconsistency."

JCP's secretariat head Akira Koike told reporters on the night of Oct. 23, "The by-elections raised a question as to whether opposition parties managed to form an authentic united front. We will need to make a serious review of the outcome," showing dissatisfaction with the DP's uncooperative posture. He pointed out that the opposition camp "won't be able to win (in the next lower house election) if we don't back each other party's candidates."

The four opposition parties harbor conflicting views over some policy measures, including constitutional amendment and nuclear power. If the DP was to approach the JCP by shelving their differences over policy measures, the ruling camp would slam them as "colluding" as it did in the July House of Councillors election. With no prospect of the DP regaining momentum, the party appears set to be mired in the agony of "how not to leave out the JCP too much, while not approaching it too closely," according to a source close to the DP.

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