TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has scored a convincing special election victory, indicating the opposition has failed to capitalise on criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Yoichi Fukazawa, 43, a former regional assemblyman, won a parliamentary seat in the Lower House representing Shizuoka prefecture on Sunday, easily beating a rival backed by four opposition parties.
Mr Fukazawa secured 61.3 per cent of the vote in the district, about 160km south-west of Tokyo, compared with 35.5 per cent for his nearest rival, Mr Ken Tanaka.
Mr Abe's support has sagged in recent opinion polls, with many respondents saying his response to the coronavirus outbreak had been too slow, or out of touch with voter priorities. But that dissatisfaction has not translated into enthusiasm for opposition parties - whose single-digit support rates have barely budged during the pandemic - meaning Mr Abe could still be able to win another general election.
"I believe this shows that the people to some extent understand and appreciate the government's policies on the coronavirus," LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida was cited by broadcaster NHK as saying.
Japan's so far relatively low infection rates may also help keep Mr Abe's approval ratings from falling further. The country has 13,444 infections and about 373 deaths as of yesterday, public broadcaster NHK said. Both numbers are the lowest among Group of Seven nations.
The Shizuoka campaign included measures such as avoiding gatherings and handshakes. Turnout for the election amid a nationwide state of emergency was 34 per cent, about 20 percentage points lower than in the last general election.
After the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were postponed, some have speculated that Mr Abe, already the country's longest-serving premier, could take advantage of the gap in his calendar to call an election in the summer. If he wins, it would be his fourth-straight general election victory.