Yesterday's poll results might further weaken Abe


Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 5

Japan went to the polls yesterday in two upper-house by-elections and a chain of local elections that could further weaken the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The poll results will set the tone for July's national elections, in which Abe's ruling coalition defends its slim majority in the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of parliament.

Voters were electing senators in rural Fukushima and Okinawa as well as mayors and assembly members in most of Japan's 47 prefectures, including Nagasaki, where the son-in-law of slain mayor Iccho Ito ran in his place.

Ito, 61, an avid anti-nuclear campaigner in Nagasaki, died last Wednesday after he was shot by a gangster. Ito was campaigning for reelection.

The two upper-house seats were vacated by members of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) when they opted to run in gubernatorial elections.

Polls showed a candidate jointly backed by the DPJ and other opposition parties was leading in Fukushima but another in Okinawa was neck-and-neck with a rival on the ruling coalition ticket.

Abe's long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) relies on the help of its smaller coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito, for the coalition's current 133-majority in the 242-member upper house.

Half of the chamber will be contested in July and the LDP and New Komeito would need to win 65 seats to maintain a majority if they lost in both by-elections.

The LDP won 49 seats and New Komeito 13 in the last election, three years ago.

"Demands for a government shake-up may be refuelled" if the LDP-led coalition loses in both Fukushima and Okinawa, the influential daily Asahi Shimbun said.

The leading business daily, the Nikkei Shimbun, said yesterday's results will "indicate the course of the July upper-house elections."