Suga’s leadership under fire as LDP candidate loses Yokohama vote


Voters unleashed their pent-up frustration over the central government’s handling of the novel coronavirus by voting against close aide to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and former public security chief Hachiro Okonogi in Yokohama’s municipal elections on Sunday.

The focus of the local elections was initially on the port city’s bid to host a casino after Japan legalized their operation under so-called integrated resorts in 2018.

But as the highly contagious Delta variant strained the country’s medical system, putting Kanagawa Prefecture where Yokohama is located under a state of emergency along with many other prefectures, voters’ attention shifted to Okonogi’s ties to Suga, who is leading the country’s response to the coronavirus. , said political analysts.

Hachiro Okonogi, a Liberal Democratic Party candidate backed by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, bows to his supporters after losing to opposition-backed Takeharu Yamanaka in the Yokohama municipal elections on August 22, 2021 (Kyodo) ) == Kyodo

With what was to be an easy win under normal circumstances for Okonogi turning into a bitter defeat, Suga, who is already suffering a drop in approval ratings on his coronavirus response, will now face growing doubts among members of the party as to whether they can survive the general election under his leadership.

A Kyodo News poll in mid-August showed Suga’s cabinet approval rating to be 31.8%, the lowest for his cabinet and down from more than 60% when he launch in September.

Suga’s term as chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and thus the country’s prime minister is due to expire on September 30, and a general election is also looming as the term of House of Representatives members expire on October 21. .

Its previous scenario had been to vaccinate the population against the new coronavirus as quickly as possible, to organize successful Olympic Games to stimulate public opinion and to dissolve the most powerful chamber of parliament for general elections after the end of the Games. Tokyo Paralympics. on September 5 and win the leadership race of the LDP without question.

But the vaccination of those who wish to receive vaccines is not yet complete, and Suga has been criticized for allowing organizers to hold the Tokyo Olympics as planned as new cases of the coronavirus have increased during the Olympic period.

And the latest election result has likely erased the scenario envisioned by Suga, said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University.

“With Mr. Okonogi’s defeat, it is likely that measures to replace Mr. Suga, organize a full-fledged leadership race for the LDP and prevent Mr. Suga from dissolving the lower house will emerge,” Nakano said.

“His close associate, Mr. Okonogi, defeated in the elections on the grounds of Mr. Suga, even after changing his stance against integrated resorts, will certainly fuel the opinion of the PLD lawmakers that they cannot fight the elections. general under Mr. Suga, “he said.

On the other hand, Takeharu Yamanaka’s victory in the LDP stronghold gives a boost to the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which supported him along with the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, while by reassuring them that their efforts to unite are paying off.

Still, Toru Yoshida, professor of political science at Doshisha University, said the opposition lacks enough momentum to bring about a change of government in the next general election.

“The ruling parties and the opposition are likely to enter the general election on a low note,” Yoshida said.

Dissolving the lower house in early September for a general election has already become difficult for Suga after his government was forced to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency until September 12 following the resurgence of the virus.

Several senior administration officials have said Suga, who has repeatedly said he places the coronavirus response as a top priority, will not dissolve the lower house while the state of emergency is still in place.

Now Yokohama’s electoral defeat, combined with the low Cabinet approval rating, is sure to spark more calls among LDP lawmakers to hold the leadership race ahead of the general election rather than after to demand a change of leader.

“Many PLD lawmakers do not want to stand in the general election of Prime Minister Suga. If we postpone the leadership elections, the party will not last, ”said a PLD source.

The LDP is expected to hold its presidential election with a campaign that will start on September 17 and vote on September 29, but the question of who can be an alternative to Suga remains.

Sanae Takaichi, known as a conservative PLD member and close to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has already expressed his intention to run for president when his schedule is decided on Thursday, while PLD political leader Hakubun Shimomura also expressed interest. Race.

Supporters of Hachiro Okonogi, a Liberal Democratic Party candidate backed by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, are pictured after the former chairman of the National Public Security Commission was defeated in the Yokohama municipal elections on August 22, 2021. (Kyodo) == Kyodo

But whether they will be able to collect the signatures of the 20 supporting members needed to run for office remains unclear. Takaichi does not belong to any faction within the party, while the largest faction in the party to which Shimomura belongs is led by Hiroyuki Hosoda, who has previously expressed support for Suga.

Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who ran in the last leadership contest against Suga, is also seen as a potential candidate.

While there is still a small window for Suga to dissolve the lower house between the potential end of the state of emergency on September 12 and the campaign’s planned start on September 17, experts say Suga would likely aim to delay the election for as long as possible, given that approval ratings have shifted along with the coronavirus situation.

Doshisha’s Yoshida said the only chance Suga will gain approval is to wait and see how vaccinations against the novel coronavirus progress and when the number of cases of infection declines.

“The number of coronavirus cases will not continue to increase indefinitely. It will decrease at some point, which will be the time to call an election,” Yoshida said.

“The longer Suga waits, the greater the possibility of the numbers going down, and that’s when he has to try his luck at survival.”

Associated coverage:

The opposition wins the election of the mayor of Yokohama at the expense of Suga

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