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LDP's big defeat in Tokyo assembly election a major blow to Abe gov't

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approaches the press after hearing the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election results, at the prime minister's office on July 3, 2017. (Mainichi)

The crushing defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election is certain to deal a serious blow to the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Problems that started within the Abe Cabinet, such as the prime minister's alleged favoritism over a plan by a school corporation run by a friend of his to establish a veterinary school and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's gaffe, adversely affected the LDP's chances of winning the assembly race.

A growing number of LDP members are holding the prime minister responsible for the party's defeat in the election, and some critics even point out that Abe's predominance in the political world could crumble.

There is also growing uncertainty in relations between the LDP and Komeito, the ruling coalition partners in national politics, as Komeito broke off its cooperative relations with the LDP in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and joined hands with Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First party), which scored a landslide victory in the poll.

Shortly after the polling stations closed at 8 p.m., Hakubun Shimomura, executive acting secretary-general of the LDP and head of the party's Tokyo chapter, conceded the party's defeat in the election.

"We must reflect on the results of the election and prevent the outcome from adversely affecting national politics," Shimomura told reporters at the party headquarters.

The high-handed manner in which the LDP steered the Diet over deliberations on the controversial "anti-conspiracy" bill, LDP legislator Mayuko Toyota's abusive outburst against one of her secretaries and Defense Minister Inada's gaffe led to intensified public criticism of the LDP.

The LDP leadership urged its campaign staff to step up their campaign as the party lost support from Komeito, which has numerous organized voters. However, the series of problems including the scandals have highlighted the party's laxity.

When it became obvious that the LDP had suffered a historic defeat, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai refused to clarify who is responsible for the loss. "We'll consider the matter from now on," he said.

Keiji Furuya, head of the LDPs Election Strategy Committee, cancelled a meeting with reporters that had been scheduled for late at night on July 2.

On June 19, shortly before the official campaigning for the election began, Prime Minister Abe told a news conference, "The metropolitan assembly election is nothing but a local election," and stopped short of clarifying the number of seats the LDP aimed to win.

Abe apparently knew that the LDP faced an uphill battle in the election, and he delivered only indoor campaign speeches before he finally made a street speech in the capital's Akihabara district on July 1.

However, when the LDP scored a major victory in the previous June 2013 metropolitan assembly election, Prime Minister Abe boasted, "The achievements my administration has made over the past six months (since its inauguration) were appreciated to a certain extent."

His remark suggests he believes that the outcome of a Tokyo metro assembly election has a direct impact on national politics.

Prime Minister Abe is aiming to have the Diet initiate constitutional revisions at a regular session in 2018 with the goal of making sure that an amended supreme law comes into force in 2020.

The LDP is poised to submit its draft of constitutional revisions to the Diet during an extraordinary session in autumn.

However, a senior LDP member has questioned its feasibility. "The administration has considerably lost its physical strength. It's highly doubtful whether we can work sufficiently (to that end)," he said.

The prime minister has attempted to play a leading role in working out a schedule for constitutional revisions since the May 3 Constitution Day, a national holiday. However, if he were to push through constitutional amendments, it could draw protests from the public.

This is the first time that Abe's predominance is being threatened so seriously since the second Abe Cabinet's inauguration at the end of 2012. Takeshi Noda, former chairman of the LDP's Research Commission on the Tax System, and Seiko Noda, former chief of the party's General Council, as well as other party legislators critical of the "Abenomics" economic policy mix promoted by Abe have repeatedly held what they call "study sessions." As such, moves to replace Abe as party leader could intensify ahead of the party presidential election scheduled for September 2018.

Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who is apparently aspiring to be party president and prime minister after Abe's tenure ends, suggested that the LDP's Tokyo chapter is not solely responsible for its defeat in the metropolitan assembly election.

"The question is whether our policy, appointments of top officials and party management can convince those critical of the LDP's culture," Ishiba said on the night of July 2.

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