Abe, ex-defence chief shrug off scandals to win big

Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were (from left) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former defence chief Tomomi Inada, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi.
Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (above), former defence chief Tomomi Inada, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi.
Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were (from left) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former defence chief Tomomi Inada, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi.
Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former defence chief Tomomi Inada (above), Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi.
Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were (from left) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former defence chief Tomomi Inada, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi.
Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former defence chief Tomomi Inada, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera (above) and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi.
Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were (from left) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former defence chief Tomomi Inada, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi.
Among the Liberal Democratic Party's big winners in Sunday's election were Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former defence chief Tomomi Inada, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Mr Shinjiro Koizumi (above).

Just three months ago, they were battered by national scandals - but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former defence chief Tomomi Inada of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dug deep into their grassroots support to win big.

Mr Abe, who was embroiled in two cronyism scandals, won his seat in his native Yamaguchi prefecture district for the ninth time on Sunday. He won 72.6 per cent of the vote, leaving four other contenders in the dust. His wife, Akie, had helped with campaigning as he waged a nationwide battle.

Ms Inada, whose stint as defence minister was overshadowed by a major cover-up saga that led to her ignominious resignation in July, also won big, with 57.3 per cent of the vote in a three-way contest.

Ms Inada reportedly apologised in person to her residents before Japanese election laws banning door-to-door campaigning kicked in.

Among the LDP's best performers are Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who was elected for a seventh term with 85.7 per cent of the votes against a challenger from the Japanese Communist Party in the Miyagi No. 6 district.

Mr Shinjiro Koizumi, 36, son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, was elected for the fourth time after winning 78 per cent of the votes against three others in Kanagawa No. 11 district.

The younger Mr Koizumi, the LDP's chief deputy secretary-general, has his eyes set on bigger targets. He was quoted by the Nikkei as saying in a television appearance on Sunday: "It is extremely important to think ahead ... While I will always remain humble, one cannot sweep the proverbial floors forever."

The LDP and Komeito together won 313 of the 465 seats up for grabs, enough to give them the two-thirds "supermajority" that is a basic threshold to push ahead with constitutional revision in the Lower Chamber.

Young people were a major source of support for the LDP this time. This is the first general election since the voting age was lowered from 20 to 18, and exit polls show 39.9 per cent of teenagers voted for the LDP - as did 40.6 per cent of those in their 20s.

Analysts said the ruling bloc's strong showing was also aided by opposition disunity - a typical assumption was that those who did not vote for the LDP would rally behind the opposition candidate. But there were many multi-way fights.

In all, 107 from the ruling coalition, including Mr Abe and Ms Inada, won in multi-cornered fights with over 50 per cent of the votes; 91 lawmakers won with fewer than half the votes in such multi-way fights, according to an analysis of election data by The Straits Times.

A further 28 lawmakers from the ruling bloc defeated their opponents in straight contests.

Together, these 226 LDP and Komeito lawmakers were directly elected through the "first-past-the-post" system, with the remaining selected through a "party list" proportional representation system.

This "party list" system - by which Japan is divided into 11 regions, with voters casting their ballots for their preferred party - has been said to be more indicative of a party's popularity.

Even so, of the 176 seats up for grabs here, the LDP and Komeito together managed to win 87 seats, just two fewer than the opposition collectively. This was even though media surveys had shown support for Mr Abe's government sinking below 30 per cent at the height of the scandals involving Mr Abe and Ms Inada earlier in the year.

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'Abe, ex-defence chief shrug off scandals to win big'. Print Edition | Subscribe