TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc suffered two rare losses in by-elections on Sunday in an apparent warning from voters not to get complacent ahead of a national election for Parliament's Upper House later this year.
The defeats in a Lower House by-election in Osaka and another on the southern island of Okinawa - host to the bulk of US military in the country - were the first such losses since Mr Abe returned to office in December 2012, except for one uncontested poll.
"Each individual (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member must take the results to heart and buckle down," Mr Abe told reporters yesterday.
The defeats come after Mr Yoshitaka Sakurada, minister in charge of the Olympics, resigned a year before the Tokyo Games for remarks that offended people affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered nuclear meltdowns in 2011.
A vice-transport minister also quit over a separate gaffe.
Support for Mr Abe's Cabinet was at 47 per cent in a survey by public broadcaster NHK released this month, up five points from the previous month.
In Okinawa, Mr Tomohiro Yara, a freelance journalist backed by several opposition parties and running on an anti-US base platform, defeated a former Cabinet minister.
In Osaka, Mr Shimpei Kitagawa, backed by the LDP and its junior partner Komeito, lost to Mr Fumitake Fujita from Nippon Ishin, a conservative Osaka-based party that sometimes cooperates with the LDP nationally.
Speculation is simmering that Mr Abe will call a snap Lower House election in tandem with the Upper House poll, possibly after announcing the postponement of a sales tax hike to 10 per cent from 8 per cent scheduled for October.