Japan’s ruling party and its allies have failed to win an outright majority in Sunday’s election for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly.
The vote in the Japanese capital was closely watched as a bellwether for a lower house election that needs to be held by October.
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Public broadcaster NHK said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 33 seats in Tokyo’s 127-member assembly, while its ally Komeito won 23 seats.
The two parties had been angling to take a combined majority of 64 seats.
The Tokyo Citizens First, the party of Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, won 31 seats.
Some analysts say the LDP’s disappointing result could put pressure on Suga, whose term as party president expires at the end of September, before the mandated election date for Japan’s House of Representatives.
The head of the LDP is virtually assured of being prime minister, given the party’s dominance in parliament.
Other observers, however, noted the result marked an increase for LDP, which currently holds 25 seats in the Tokyo assembly, and therefore it was unlikely to prompt calls for replacing Suga as leader.
The prime minister told reporters at his office on Monday that he “humbly” accepted the “fact that we could not win a majority as promised”.
“Our Tokyo branch and headquarters will analyze the outcome together and prepare for next time,” he said.
Analysts told the Kyodo news agency the LDP’s smaller-than-expected advance signalled public dissatisfaction with Suga’s decision to push ahead with the Summer Olympics and Paralympics during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Games will begin on July 23.
“The result shows the public does not support the central government led by Mr Suga. The LDP put a lot of effort into the Tokyo election this time, but it ended up with a poor outcome,” Masahiro Iwasaki, a political science professor at Nihon University, told Kyodo.
“This is a no to the LDP and a no to the Suga government,” Iwasaki said.
Voters on Sunday said COVID-19 remained their chief concern. A resurgence of the pandemic in Japan has seen new COVID-19 infections in Tokyo rise to a more than five-week high, with 716 reported on Saturday.
“My focus on this election was the pandemic measures,” a 26-year-old actor, who is deaf, wrote in a note to a Reuters reporter outside the polling station. He asked not to be named.
“I picked the candidate who would take actions to save infected people, as I am afraid of losing my job and my income if I get infected,” he said, declining to name the candidate. “I don’t care about political parties.”
Another voter was critical of the LDP’s handling of the pandemic.
“I wanted to give my vote to someone in the opposition as I don’t support the current (national) government,” said Noriko Ushimaru, a woman in her 80s. “They are hopeless in coronavirus responses. I don’t see their determination to curb the virus.”
She said the holding of the Tokyo Olympics amid the pandemic and vaccine supply shortages were examples of the government’s inadequate anti-coronavirus measures.