ANALYSIS / LDP, New Komeito support key to Ishihara victory

Although newly reelected Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara called himself an independent, he relied on the significant support of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito to achieve his win in Sunday’s gubernatorial election.

In the previous election in 2003, he enjoyed strong popular support. But this time, he faced harsh criticism by other candidates over his high-handed political style. The support of the LDP and New Komeito therefore played an important role in his decisive defeat of the 13 other candidates in the Tokyo race, including former Miyagi Gov. Shiro Asano.

“A number of joint efforts by LDP and New Komeito members in the metropolitan assembly saw more people in Tokyo agree [with certain policies],” Ishihara said Sunday night, apparently showing his gratitude to the parties for their support.

The main question in Sunday’s election was whether Tokyo voters would allow Ishihara to stay in office. Much attention was paid to matters such as Ishihara’s aspiration to see Tokyo host the 2016 Olympic Games and how metropolitan budgets were being used.

Although Ishihara’s 2003 campaign received little backing from political parties, this time his campaign benefitted from partnerships with the LDP and New Komeito.

Ishihara also frequently joined rallies of candidates standing in metropolitan assembly by-elections and candidates likely to run in ward mayoral elections.

At a major rally Tuesday of the largest support organization for the LDP’s Tokyo chapter, Ishihara said, “I’ve never before called for the support of the party and your power as strongly as this.”

In the wake of criticism over matters including the cost of his travel expenses for his business trips, Ishihara apologized during one speech, saying, “I didn’t provide a full explanation.”

He thus stressed that a Tokyo poll win would mark a fresh start, according to a senior staff member of Ishihara’s camp.

The LDP for its part fought the gubernatorial race as if it had fielded its own candidate. “If [Ishihara] were defeated by a candidate backed by the Democratic Party of Japan in the closely watched Tokyo gubernatorial election, its impact on the House of Councillors election [in the summer] would be immeasurable,” a senior LDP member said.

The LDP made systematic efforts to support Ishihara. LDP lawmakers from Tokyo attracted support for Ishihara by visiting companies and Tokyo metropolitan assembly members of the LDP helped run telephone campaigns from Ishihara’s campaign headquarters.

A senior LDP member said Sunday night, “[Ishihara] faced a backlash to some degree, but his high public profile largely contributed to the victory.”

“We achieved a victory because the party extended support [for Ishihara] with the cooperation of New Komeito, regarding this race as a test for the upper house election,” the LDP member added.


DPJ disappointed

Asano failed to garner votes from most DPJ and Social Democratic Party supporters and swing voters split their votes between him and Ishihara, resulting in his defeat.

Asano decided to run in the election at the request of civic groups following his decision not to run on a DPJ ticket.

As such, he declared his candidacy only 16 days before the election kicked off.

The DPJ and SDP threw their unofficial support behind Asano, but in the beginning of the electoral campaign, he competed as a maverick, shunning political parties.

He stressed the back-up of political parties in the second half of the campaign following reports on his poor approval rating due to his low name recognition.

Even DPJ lawmakers, including DPJ Acting President Naoto Kan, who have won elections in Tokyo constituencies, failed to make a difference, despite campaigning for him.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama was bitterly disappointed, saying that his party could not give full support to Asano because Asano’s aides had initially asked the DPJ to help from behind the scenes.

Some DPJ lawmakers criticized their party leadership, saying the party should have taken the initiative in campaigning for Asano.

(Apr. 9, 2007)