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Shock and discontent within LDP over historical loss in Tokyo assembly election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers reporters' questions the morning after Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election results came in, with a grim look on his face at the prime minister's office on July 3, 2017. (Mainichi)

The morning after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a massive and historical loss in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election against Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First party), Prime Minister and LDP President Shinzo Abe admitted to reporters that the LDP must accept the election results as a serious critique of the party.

"We have been handed a grim judgment. We must take the results to heart as profound criticism of the LDP, and do some soul searching," he told reporters at the prime minister's office on the morning of July 3.

Shocked by the party's major loss, discontent toward the prime minister is building within the party, while at an extraordinary meeting of the LDP board held later in the morning at party headquarters, board members confirmed that they would continue to support Abe.

To reporters, Abe indicated his intention to remain at the helm of government, saying, "The LDP must work as one to reposition itself, and recover the public's trust by bringing about results. We will go forth with what needs to be done with humility and care. I will go back to my basic ethos from when I took back control of the administration."

As for the reason for the LDP's overwhelming loss in the election, Abe remarked, "I think there was criticism that the Abe administration had become slack." He did not touch upon his responsibility for the election results, or on a Cabinet reshuffle.

"The Tokyo assembly election is fundamentally a regional election," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated at a press conference the same day. "And we were unable to sufficiently gain Tokyo voters' understanding for our handling of local issues."

At the beginning of the extraordinary LDP board meeting held at party headquarters, no one spoke as the prime minister sat with his lips closed tightly in a straight line, his eyes on the cameras pointed at him.

According to one source who attended the meeting, the prime minister stated that he wished to reflect on the loss and accept it with humility. The source also said that Abe asked each of the meeting participants to think about what can be done in the Diet, in policy, and in regional elections."

In response to these instructions, LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Wataru Takeshita met with his Komeito counterpart Yoshinori Oguchi in the Diet, and discussed plans for a probe while the Diet is not in session -- a demand that had been made by opposition parties regarding the Kake Educational Institution scandal, but which the ruling coalition comprising the LDP and Komeito had previously refused to accommodate.

At noon on July 3, a liaison committee between the government and ruling parties met at the prime minister's office, where the LDP and Komeito -- which were rivals in the Tokyo assembly election since the latter decided to back Tomin First no Kai -- reconfirmed that they would maintain their coalition in national politics.

"The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election was a serious assessment of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government," Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi emphasized. "We still face a mountain of challenges in national politics, so we must work together (with the LDP) to live up to the public's expectations." Yamaguchi subsequently met with Abe one-on-one.

Of the 127 seats up for grabs in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 2, 49 went to members of Tomin First no Kai -- launched by Gov. Yuriko Koike nine months ago and upgraded to a regional political party this past January -- or 55, when including those who were placed on the party ticket at a later date, becoming the largest bloc in the Tokyo assembly. With the addition of candidates from Komeito and other parties that supported Koike, 79 of 127 seats, or a majority, were taken by Koike-friendly candidates.

The LDP, meanwhile, went from having 57 seats in the Tokyo assembly to less than half of that, at 23, in a historical loss for the party. Meanwhile, all 23 candidates who were fielded by Komeito won. The Japanese Communist Party increased its seats by two to 19, while the Democratic Party went from its current seven to five seats.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Election Administration Commission on July 2 issued an amendment to the voting rate in the election from 51.27 percent to 51.28 percent.

Meanwhile, members of the LDP are starting to express their displeasure with Abe and other senior party officials. "There will be turmoil in the party," one Cabinet member admitted. "If the LDP doesn't experience some sort of disturbance under the current circumstances, we'd wonder what's wrong with it."

Party members are also beginning to question the plan initiated by Prime Minister Abe to present the LDP's draft constitution to an extraordinary session of the Diet this fall.

"Many have pointed out to us that the words and actions of Diet members affected the results of the Tokyo assembly election," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is seeking the role of prime minister post-Abe, told reporters in Tokyo on the morning of July 3. He also expressed his support for the current administration, saying, "As I am a Cabinet member, I must work hard alongside the prime minister."

Late at night on July 2, another post-Abe hopeful and former LDP secretary-general, Shigeru Ishiba, said, "Rather than a victory for Tomin First no Kai, the election results indicate doubts and concerns people have about the LDP. The LDP is what's being called into question."

Gov. Koike announced that she was stepping down as head of Tomin First no Kai as of July 3. Kazusa Noda will take her place as party chief. "I'm stepping down because I expect concerns about the soundness of our dual representative system to be raised," Koike told reporters. A dual representative system entails separate and direct elections for local chief and local assembly members, the latter of whom are meant to keep the former's administrative management in check.

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