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2009年7月 8日 (水)

自民「静岡」敗北 首相はさらに窮地に立った

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jul. 7, 2009)
Defeat in Shizuoka poll pushes Aso to the wall
自民「静岡」敗北 首相はさらに窮地に立った(7月6日付・読売社説)

The Shizuoka gubernatorial election on Sunday--a bellwether for the House of Representatives election--was won by former university president Heita Kawakatsu, who defeated Yukiko Sakamoto, a former House of Councillors lawmaker backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and two other contenders.

The victory of the candidate supported by opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan, dealt a stinging defeat for Prime Minister Taro Aso, who wants to dissolve the lower house for a general election at his own discretion. He is now in an even more difficult situation.

The gubernatorial election, which was called after Gov. Yoshinobu Ishikawa resigned amid a dispute over the opening of Shizuoka Airport, was a head-on battle between the LDP and the main opposition DPJ ahead of the looming lower house election.

During the election campaign, the LDP was in turmoil over Aso's abortive attempt to reshuffle its top cadre while suspected fictitious donations to DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama came to light. Voters' attention centered on how all this would affect each party throughout its campaign.

The DPJ failed to form a consensus between Kawakatsu and former DPJ upper house member Toru Unno over whom the party should field as the DPJ-backed candidate--in what amounted to a split in DPJ supporters' votes in Sunday's race.
However, Kawakatsu left Sakamoto behind in the race, capitalizing on his name recognition as a scholar, coupled with public criticism against the LDP that acted as a tailwind.


External factors

It is undeniable that Sakamoto's defeat was attributable to negative consequences of Japan Post Holdings Co. President Yoshifumi Nishikawa keeping his post and the Aso Cabinet's approval rate slipping amid turmoil over a minor Cabinet shuffle.

The LDP is striving to secure a majority in the upcoming Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election--the next electoral battle--by combining its gains with those of its coalition partner, New Komeito. However, a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll indicated that the LDP is facing an uphill battle.

If the ruling parties fail to obtain a majority or allow the DPJ to emerge as the largest party in the assembly, it could encourage LDP members to unhesitatingly press a demand for Aso to step down, insisting they will be unable to fight the lower house election under his leadership as party president.

Aso is still considering the possibility of dissolving the lower house immediately after the Tokyo assembly election with voting in early August, but New Komeito strongly opposes such a schedule. Also, calls within the LDP for postponing the lower house dissolution are becoming louder.


Tokyo poll will set tone

Whether Aso can take the initiative in the current political situation hinges solely on the outcome of the Tokyo assembly election.

At the moment, Aso has to step up efforts for quick passage through the Diet of important bills, including a bill to revise the Organ Transplant Law and another that would expand the list of people eligible for financial relief as Minamata disease sufferers. He also has to accelerate drawing up the party's manifesto ahead of the lower house election.

The DPJ, for its part, cannot sit idly by.

Hatoyama admitted his political fund management organization had made false statements in its fund reports, listing fictitious individual donations, and offered a public apology. DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada has said Hatoyama has fulfilled his accountability over the case. However, a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll found as many as about 80 percent of respondents considered his explanation insufficient.

Following the case involving his predecessor Ichiro Ozawa, Hatoyama's case highlights again the problem of "politics and money." The DPJ needs to dispel suspicion if it is to try to stave off the negative impact of the scandal on its fortunes in the Tokyo assembly and lower house elections.

(From the final edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 6, 2009)
(2009年7月6日01時32分  読売新聞)


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