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Ex-DP star Yamao hit with claims of foul play in her re-election

Shiori Yamao smiles while holding flowers in the city of Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, after her expected victory was projected, on Oct. 23, 2017. (Mainichi)

NAGOYA -- Former Democratic Party lawmaker Shiori Yamao is caught up in another clamor following her re-election in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives poll, with relentless calls being made to the local election management committee here as well as flaming over social media claiming that her victory was due to foul play in vote counting.

The Aichi Prefectural Election Management Commission announced that the independently running Yamao was the winner of the Aichi No. 7 constituency at roughly 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 23. She won by a small margin of 834 votes over Liberal Democratic Party candidate Junji Suzuki, while there were 11,291 invalid ballots. Outcries online such as, "Over 10,000 invalid votes aren't normal," "This is a conspiracy" and "I reported this to the police" began soon after. The earliest confirmed flaming began on an online bulletin board at roughly 1:56 a.m.

The complaints spread to Twitter and other social media as of roughly 2 a.m., claiming that the results were "suspicious" and that "ballots for the other candidate were fraudulently made invalid," and more users began calling for a recount. There were even racist remarks that appeared, questioning if someone working on ballot counting was required to have Japanese citizenship or not.

Calls for reconfirmation or a recount began flooding the prefectural election commission from approximately 6 a.m. on Oct. 23, and even continued to ring into the evening of Oct. 24. "All votes were counted under the supervision of observers from each camp. There can be no foul play," stated a representative from the election committee.

To begin with, can it really be said that the large number of invalid ballots, which seems to have sparked the controversy, is unusual? The void ballots made up 4.23 percent of all votes cast in the Aichi No. 7 constituency race. That number is indeed higher than the national proportion of invalid votes cast for single-seat constituencies in the 2014 House of Representatives election at 3.29 percent. However, in this year's single-seat constituency race, invalid ballots made up 9.71 percent of all votes cast in the Tokyo No. 12 constituency, and those in Tokyo's No. 14, 16 and 17 electoral districts were also over 5 percent.

The high number of invalid votes is believed to be due to the trend for voters who do not support any candidate to cast a blank ballot. According to the Central Election Management Council of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there were some 1.8 million void ballots in single-seat constituencies in the previous lower house election in 2014, and the majority at roughly 1 million were blank ballots.

So why was Yamao the target for online and offline flaming? Osaka International University associate professor and head of the NPO All Japan Obachan Party (AJOP) Mayumi Taniguchi gives two reasons.

"Recently, whether they lean left or right politically, people tend to be quick to call fraudulent voting," she says. "This is the age of SNS where all we see are like-minded people with the same political views as our own. We believe that this world we see online is the same offline, and the people who shortsightedly think 'there is no way a politician hated that much could be elected unless there was vote rigging' are increasing."

Her other reason is of course scandal-hit Yamao herself. "She challenged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe head-on in the Diet -- and she's a woman. There was also media that reported an alleged extramarital affair," Taniguchi explains. "But such allegations, essentially, have nothing to do with others. Lawmakers should be evaluated by how they carry out their public duties, and there is no doubt that if the same thing had happened to a male lawmaker, there would not have been such an intense reaction.

"It's a glimpse into the loathsome world of older men in politics who want to tear down women who challenge them as equals."

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