Japan's opposition said yesterday the tide was turning against the ruling bloc after its candidate was voted mayor of Osaka in the first election under Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
The opposition also said it was the wrong time to discuss key legislation that would enable Japan to resume its naval mission supporting the "war on terror," citing scandals which involve the defense ministry and the finance minister.
The opposition-supported candidate ousted the incumbent backed by Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Sunday's election after a campaign that drew senior national lawmakers from both sides.
"It was proof that voters in Osaka did not approve of the Fukuda administration and the administration supported by the Liberal Democratic Party," said Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
"This symbolizes nationwide politics," he said.
The opposition won one house of parliament in July in a voter backlash against a raft of scandals under then prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe abruptly quit after the opposition refused his calls to extend a naval mission supporting the US-led "war on terror" in Afghanistan.
Fukuda, a 71-year-old centrist political veteran, took over in late September. He is in the midst of a battle with the opposition to restart the naval deployment.
In a summit in Washington over the weekend, Fukuda promised US President George W. Bush to work to resume the mission, which provided fuel and other support on the Indian Ocean to the US-led coalition.
Fukuda's government downplayed the significance of the Osaka election.
"It was unfortunate that the candidate supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito lost," chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said, referring to the LDP's coalition partner.
"But we are not analysing it at the level of national politics. I don't think this will affect politics at the national level," he said.
In the election, Kunio Hiramatsu, a former TV newscaster supported by the opposition, defeated the LDP-backed incumbent Junichi Seki, who was first elected in 2003. The election was nominally non-partisan.
The election offers good news for the opposition after a tough month in which its leader Ichiro Ozawa offered to resign and then retracted it in a feud over whether to join Fukuda in a grand coalition.
The opposition has also gone on the offensive over a growing scandal in which the recently retired top bureaucrat at the defense ministry acknowledged that a military contractor treated him to gifts, dinner and more than 200 golf trips.
The opposition said that it would probe the scandal before taking up a bill on the naval mission. Fukuda wants the military legislation to pass during the current parliament session that ends on Dec. 15.
"The ruling bloc may need to extend the current session again," Hatoyama said.
"The collusion between politicians, bureaucrats and business is just being divulged in the defense ministry scandal. Naturally, now is not the time to discuss the new anti-terror legislation," he said.