Japan ruling party suffers blow
Election results deliver triple defeat as voters get vehement
Published: Apr 26, 2021 05:33 PM
Japan's ruling party suffered a triple blow at by-elections over the weekend, as voter frustration with scandals and government management of the coronavirus risked weakening the influence of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government.

Suga's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost all three seats in parliamentary by-elections on Sunday, polls widely seen as a verdict on his administration and a bellwether for a crucial Lower House election later in 2021.

The votes, for seats in both the Upper House and the more powerful lower chamber, were the first significant ballots since Suga took power in September 2020. 

Two of the seats were left open due to political scandals and a third after the death of a lawmaker from COVID-19.

"I intend to take the people's decision with humility, and make amends where amending is necessary after conducting further analysis," Suga told reporters on Monday, adding that fighting the pandemic is his priority.

Anger with a vote-buying and a separate bribery scandal, as well as with the government's handling of the pandemic and a tortuously slow vaccine rollout, played about equal roles in the election outcome, analysts said. 

Though Japan has not suffered as badly as other nations, the government has struggled to cope with a recent surge in cases and on Friday imposed a third state of emergency on parts of the country just three months before the Olympics are set to open. 

Only one vaccine has been approved for use in Japan, with roughly 1 percent of the population having been fully vaccinated so far.

"Two of the elections were held due to scandals, so that was definitely in the background," said Airo Hino, a political science professor at Waseda University.

"But anger and frustration on the part of the people due to how the pandemic's being handled, and the slowness of the vaccine rollout, also played a part."

Suga's support rating stood around 70 percent when he took office in September 2020 by replacing Shinzo Abe, who resigned due to health reasons after becoming Japan's longest-serving premier. 

His rating plunged to the 30 percent level earlier in 2021, but has since recovered slightly.

The LDP had been expected to lose in two of the three races and didn't even field a candidate in one.