The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a hammering in a Tokyo assembly election yesterday, in a poll that is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration.
It lost to the upstart Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) party, run by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, which together with its allies clinched a majority of 79 seats in the 127-seat assembly. The LDP, which fielded 60 candidates and had 57 members in the former assembly, won only 23 seats.
The landslide win for Tomin First means Ms Koike, who was elected in July last year, will have an easier time getting policies passed in the local assembly, which oversees the governance of a city of 13.7 million people that contributes a fifth of Japan's economy.
The defeat yesterday marked the LDP's worst showing in the capital since 2009, when it took 38 seats. Months later, it lost the National Diet to the then-Democratic Party of Japan, which ruled from 2009 to 2012 in a break of the LDP's near-consecutive reign since 1955.
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Last night's results plunged Mr Abe into one of his lowest points during his 41/2 years in power.
He will need to call a Lower House election by December next year. Last night, he held a meeting with his key deputies, but he declined comment when asked about the pummelling.
Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, who drew flak last week for using the military Self-Defence Force's name to lobby for votes for an LDP candidate, also declined comment.
I am pleased that Tomin First's sincere policies and appeal against the status quo have won over voters. For this election, I spoke in 101 street rallies - 100 times more than the Prime Minister - with the message that it will not be good for Tokyo to walk the path it has had in the last four years.
TOKYO GOVERNOR YURIKO KOIKE, who was jubilant over the results.
PARTY NEEDS TO WIN BACK TRUST
It is a very tough result for the LDP, and the party must reflect on it seriously. We must make efforts to decide our next steps, so as to win back the trust of the voters one by one.
FOREIGN MINISTER FUMIO KISHIDA, who leads a different LDP faction from Mr Abe and is said to be eyeing the prime minister role.
CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM STILL KEY
The vote will not affect the LDP's schedule towards revising the Constitution. It is very important to shape the ideal Constitution for Japan's future, and the debate needs to continue as before. As for when the Lower House will be dissolved, it is a matter for Mr Abe to decide. But there is no mistake that the result is a firm rebuke against the LDP, and the party will need to take every effort to win back the trust of citizens.
LEADER OF THE LDP'S TOKYO CHAPTER HAKUBUN SHIMOMURA
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who leads a different LDP faction from Mr Abe's and who is said to be eyeing the prime minister's role, said last night: "It is a very tough result for the LDP, and the party must reflect on it seriously. We must make efforts to decide our next steps, so as to win back the trust of the voters one by one."
Mr Hakubun Shimomura, who heads the LDP's Tokyo chapter, attributed the defeat to "a sense of distrust arising from national political issues". He said the LDP would need to consider holding an extraordinary Diet session to look into a favouritism scandal, as requested by the opposition.
In contrast, the Tomin First camp was jubilant. Ms Koike, 64, who quit the LDP last month and is seen to be prime minister material, called the election a "pivotal moment" and said the results "vastly exceeded her expectations". She said that Tokyo voters have recognised the party's pledges to better the lives of the citizens, and that Tokyo can take the lead in pioneering policies.
Central to the Tomin First's campaign are policies that have stalled on the national level, including measures to shorten waiting lists for childcare centres and to curb passive smoking in the capital.
Ms Koike also promised to open up the "black box" of the assembly and cut down on wasteful spending by the Tokyo government. Such policies resonated with voters, who recall the Olympic Games' ballooning budget under Ms Koike's LDP-approved predecessor.
Tomin First, formed only in January, quickly won allies, including the Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner at the national level.
The LDP had sought to cast Ms Koike as an indecisive leader who wasted time dithering over issues such as the relocation of the Tsukiji fish market. But this failed to win over voters, many of whom see the LDP as evasive in answering to political scandals and complacent in ramming home controversial Bills.
The loss also comes as the LDP attempts to revise the post-war Constitution for the first time in 70 years.
Speaking before the results, University of Tokyo political watcher Yu Uchiyama said Ms Koike was a "savvy politician in her populist strategies that stress confrontation with the establishment".
"This phenomenon of disaffected people, who are tired of the incumbents and will vote against establishment, has also been seen in other parts of the world."