Tokyo ballot today seen as test of ruling party's strength

Tokyo Governor and head of Tomin First no Kai party Yuriko Koike taking her message to voters yesterday. Beside her is a candidate from the party, Ms Airi Ryuen, 40, a naturalised Japanese citizen born in Sweden.
Tokyo Governor and head of Tomin First no Kai party Yuriko Koike taking her message to voters yesterday. Beside her is a candidate from the party, Ms Airi Ryuen, 40, a naturalised Japanese citizen born in Sweden.PHOTO: TWITTER ACCOUNT OF YURIKO KOIKE

Polls show LDP will likely lose its majority in assembly to new force run by Tokyo governor

Tokyo votes today in a local assembly election that has taken on national prominence.

For one, the ballot is seen as a gauge of how recent scandals have impacted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Top officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are concerned the party will suffer a hammering from voters electing 127 assemblymen who will decide on laws that apply within Tokyo for the next four years.

At a rally in the electronics district of Akihabara last night, Mr Abe was heckled, with calls for him to resign. It was the second consecutive day he was heckled while stumping for LDP candidates. At an earlier rally last Wednesday, he apologised in his capacity as LDP chief and said: "A castle that takes three years to build can be destroyed in a day."

Opinion polls show the LDP will likely lose its majority in the assembly to a new force - the Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) that was formed in January and run by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. She quit the LDP last month.

This is the stiffest political challenge the LDP has faced in the Japanese capital since 2009, when it lost its majority to the then Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). That result would prove to be a harbinger for national polls months later, when the LDP ceded control of the government to the DPJ.

This time, as many as 259 candidates are vying for the 127 seats at stake. The LDP, which had 57 members in the former assembly, is fielding 60 candidates. Its coalition partner, Komeito, has joined forces with Tomin First in the Tokyo polls, while maintaining its coalition ties with LDP at the national level.

Tomin First is fielding 50 candidates, mostly political novices or defectors from other parties, while Komeito is fielding 23 candidates. At least 64 seats are required to win a simple majority in the assembly.

A strong showing by Tomin First today will strengthen Ms Koike's hand in governing the capital, home to 13.7 million people.

There are analysts, however, who believe any loss for the LDP in Tokyo might not be reflected on the national level, attributing this to the fact that there is still no formidable national opposition force.

Tomin First remains but a local power, they told The Sunday Times.

"The ace up their sleeve is an opposition in disarray that gains little traction from his mounting follies," said Dr Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University Japan.

Dr Sota Kato, executive director of the Tokyo Foundation, said a bad showing for the LDP might lead to a Cabinet reshuffle with "young fresh faces", and even a snap election. This would "easily catch many parties off guard, before they can field competitive candidates", he said.

Mr Abe does not have to call a vote until next December. Final vote results are expected tonight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Tokyo ballot today seen as test of ruling party's strength'. Print Edition | Subscribe