Japan PM’s party suffers historic defeat in Tokyo poll

BIG WIN FOR GOVERNOR: Results signal trouble ahead for Abe, who has suffered from slumping support because of favouritism scam –

TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party suffered a historic defeat in an election in the Japanese capital on Sunday, signalling trouble ahead for the premier, who has suffered from slumping support because of a favouritism scandal.
On the surface, the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election was a referendum on Governor Yuriko Koike’s year in office, but the dismal showing for Abe’s party is also a stinging rebuke of his 4-1/2-year-old administration.
Koike’s Tokyo Citizens First party and its allies were on track for between 73 to 85 seats in the 127-seat assembly, according to exit polls by NHK public TV.
Later vote counts showed the LDP was certain to post its worst-ever result, winning at most 37 seats compared with 57 before the election, NHK said, while Koike’s party and allies were assured a majority.
“We must recognise this as an historic defeat,” former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba was quoted by NHK as saying. “Rather than a victory for Tokyo Citizens First, this is a defeat for the LDP,” said Ishiba, who is widely seen as an Abe rival within the ruling party.
Past Tokyo elections have been bellwethers for national trends. A 2009 Tokyo poll in which the LDP won just 38 seats was followed by its defeat in a general election that year, although this time no lower house poll need be held until late 2018.
Koike, a media-savvy ex-defence minister and former LDP member, took office a year ago as the first female governor in the capital, defying the local LDP chapter to run and promising to reform governance of a megacity with a population of 13.7 million and an economy bigger than Holland’s.
Among her allies is the Komeito party, the LDP’s national coalition partner.
“I am excited but at the same time, I am also keenly aware of the weight of my responsibility,” Koike told NHK, adding the results had exceeded her expectations.
The strong showing by Koike’s party will fuel speculation that she will make a bid for the nation’s top job, though that may not be until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
It could also widen cracks between the LDP and the Komeito while damaging prospects for the opposition Democratic Party.
Abe’s rivals in his party could be encouraged by the LDP’s dismal performance to challenge him in a
leadership race in September 2018, victory in which would set Abe on course to become Japan’s longest-serving leader and bolster his hopes of revising the post-war, pacifist constitution.
Gerry Curtis, professor emeritus at Columbia University, speaking before the results, said Japan’s political landscape could be set for a shake-up.
“We may discover that Japan is not all that different from Britain, France, and the US in its ability to produce a big political surprise,” he said, referring to recent elections in those countries. — Reuters