The Sabara district of Fukushima is located at the foot of the Azuma mountain range, which defines the border with Yamagata Prefecture.

Rice paddies stretched everywhere as far as the eye could see. The air resounded with murmurs of a tributary of the Abukumagawa river.

I visited this rural community, which was the first stop on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stumping tour on the opening day of the official campaign period for the Oct. 22 Lower House election.

The local community had been informed of Abe’s visit on short notice. I was told that rice harvesting had been put off on purpose to make sure the scene would not appear too desolate in news footage.

Harvesting was now over in all the rice fields that stood golden at the time. The day I visited there, not a soul could be seen at the baseball grounds that are scheduled to be an Olympic venue three years down the road.

I gave my thoughts to Abe’s inner feelings on the initial day of the official campaign period and yesterday, when the votes were cast and counted.

An expression of relief was seen on Abe’s face last night for the first time in quite a while. It appeared to me that self-confidence was back in the prime minister as he said he will “face up with humility” to his electoral victory.

That was a far cry from how he looked on the first day of official campaigning. Footage of Abe giving a speech betrayed a shadow of uneasiness in his eyes. His expressions were stiff as he munched a ball of locally produced rice.

Around the time Abe dissolved the Lower House last month, the situation was so murky that nobody could tell if his decision to call the snap election would come out in his favor or against him. The prime minister probably had no choice but to pick a peaceful, rural community for his first stop on his stumping tour if he did not want a repeat of the chants calling for his resignation that he had faced when he gave a campaign speech for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election this past summer.

An enemy's error had seldom been so decisive a factor in other elections of recent years.

If I may use baseball metaphors, Abe, the pitcher, had a worsening ERA. He started a game without asking, believing that his opponents were underprepared. An unforeseen slugger turned up and began practicing her swing, but in the end, she never stepped into the batter’s box. Infighting broke out in the enemy camp soon after. Such was the vision of a game that sort of unfurled before my eyes.

I wish to remind Abe of one thing, in case he should get it wrong. He did not earn his victory. He was only helped by unsettled opposition members.

The eligible voters have not forgotten about the prime minister’s habit of turning abruptly arrogant once an election is over.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.