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Japan’s Ruling Party Loses All 3 Seats in Special Vote, Seen as Punishment for Corruption Scandal

Japan’s Ruling Party Loses All 3 Seats in Special Vote, Seen as Punishment for Corruption Scandal
Japan’s Ruling Party Loses All 3 Seats in Special Vote, Seen as Punishment for Corruption Scandal

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s governing party, stung by an extensive slush funds scandal, lost all three seats in parliamentary by-elections Sunday in a major setback for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in seeking reelection as his party’s leader in the autumn.

The loss is considered punishment by voters for the Liberal Democratic Party scandal that erupted last year and has undermined Kishida’s leadership. The party’s loss of power is unlikely, however, because the opposition is fractured.

“The results were extremely severe,” LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters. “We humbly accept the severe results, and we will do our utmost to regain the trust from the public as we continue our effort to reform and tackle the challenges.”

The liberal-leaning main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan clinched all three seats in Shimane, Nagasaki and Tokyo, according to final vote counts posted on prefectural election committee websites.

The LDP previously held all three vacated seats. It did not field its own candidates in the Tokyo and Nagasaki by-elections because of the apparent low support for the party. It focused instead on defending the seat in the Shimane district that was vacated by the death of former LDP House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, who was linked to a number of alleged irregularities, including the ongoing slush fund scandal.

Akiko Kamei, the CDPJ candidate who beat former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Norimasa Nishikori from the LDP in Shimane, said her victory in the district known as a “conservative kingdom” sent a big message to Kishida. “I believe the voters’ anger over LDP’s slush funds problem and the lack of improvement in daily lives in the prefecture became support for me,” she said.

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CPDJ leader Kenta Izumi said the by-elections were about political reforms. “There are many voters across the country who also want to show (similar) views,” he said, adding that he will seek early national elections if reforms by the governing party are too slow.

The losses could reduce Kishida’s clout as LDP lawmakers may try to bring him down to put a new face ahead of the next general election. Such a move would dash Kishida’s hope for running in the party presidential race in September for another three-year term. As prime minister, he can call a snap election any time before the current term for the lower house expires in October 2025.

Kishida has fought plummeting support ratings since the corruption scandal erupted last year. He has removed a number of Cabinet ministers and others from party executive posts, conducted internal hearings and drafted reform measures, but support ratings for his government have dwindled to around 20%.

The scandal centers on unreported political funds raised through tickets sold for party events. Ten people — lawmakers and their aides — were indicted in January.

More than 80 governing party lawmakers, most of them belonging to a major party faction previously led by assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have acknowledged not reporting funds in a possible violation of the Political Funds Control Law. The money received from the long-term practice is alleged to have gone into unmonitored slush funds.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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