Japan Ruling Party Loses Seats in Blow for Suga Before Election
Yoshihide Suga, Japan's prime minister, removes a protective face mask to sip water in Tokyo. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Japan Ruling Party Loses Seats in Blow for Suga Before Election

Japanese opposition parties won all three by-elections for parliamentary seats in a blow for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who must hold a general election within six months.

The by-elections held Sunday were the first of their kind for Suga since he became prime minister in September. Two of the races -- one in the northern island of Hokkaido and another in Hiroshima -- were to replace ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who stepped down over graft charges. The LDP didn’t field a candidate in the Hokkaido election.

The opposition also won a third election in the central prefecture of Nagano, held after the death of a lawmaker from Covid-19. Despite the losses, the LDP-led coalition kept its majority in both houses of parliament.

“I will accept the verdict of the people with humility,” Suga told reporters Monday. “After analyzing the situation in the regions, I will correct what needs to be corrected.”

While Suga’s LDP is unlikely to be toppled in the near future, the losses could weaken support for the prime minister, who has come under fire over scandals and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He faces a party leadership poll in September and must also call a general election by October.

“While this was in line with surveys, and not a surprise, it will be a hurdle in terms of the party poll and general election,” Yoshimasa Maruyama and Koya Miyamae of SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. said in a note to investors. “It’s likely that the ruling parties will seek to avoid an early election.”

While Suga has the right to dissolve parliament for an election at a time of his choosing, he reiterated Monday that tackling the virus would remain the top priority.

None of the opposition parties boasts support of more than single figures. A poll published this month by public broadcaster NHK found 37.4% of respondents supported the LDP, while the next most popular group was the Constitutional Democratic Party on 6.3%. The main opposition parties jointly backed candidates in Sunday’s three by-elections.

Suga came to office with some of the highest support ratings in recent years for a new Japanese leader, but a series of scandals and a surge in coronavirus cases has pushed approval down. The NHK poll this month put support for his cabinet at 44%.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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