Photo/IllutrationTomohiro Yara, center, performs the traditional local dance called Kachashi in Okinawa city on April 21 when his victory in the Lower House by-election for the Okinawa No. 3 constituency became certain. At right is Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki. (Jun Kaneko)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Candidates supported by the ruling coalition lost in Lower House by-elections held in Okinawa and Osaka prefectures on April 21, raising concerns from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of the summer Upper House election.

In the Okinawa No. 3 constituency, Tomohiro Yara, a freelance journalist backed by opposition parties, won the race. In the Osaka No. 12 constituency, Fumitake Fujita, a company president who ran under the ticket of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), obtained victory.

“The results are extremely disappointing,” Abe told reporters at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on April 22. “We have to brace ourselves for the Upper House election.”

He said his ruling Liberal Democratic Party will analyze the causes of the losses to better prepare for the Upper House election.

Yara, 56, defeated Aiko Shimajiri, 54, a former state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, who was backed by both the LDP and its junior coalition partner, Komeito.

The main issue in the campaign was the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago, also in the prefecture.

Nago falls within the No. 3 constituency.

Shimajiri clearly supported the relocation plan, arguing that the transfer would remove the dangers posed by the Futenma air base from the densely populated residential area of Ginowan.

But the win went to Yara, providing another victory for voters who are against the relocation plan.

The by-election was held because Denny Tamaki, who had been elected to the Lower House from the constituency, resigned to run in the Okinawa governor’s race last year.

Tamaki won that election on promises to oppose the Futenma relocation project.

In the by-election campaign, Yara emphasized that he was a successor to Tamaki.

“The government should suspend land reclamation work off the Henoko district,” Yara said during the campaign. “It is possible to suspend the operations of the Futenma air base by reviewing the operations of the U.S. Marine Corps.”

Yara was supported by the “All Okinawa” force, which included not only the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party but also some conservative organizations.

Voter turnout was 43.99 percent.

In the Osaka No. 12 constituency, Fujita, 38, defeated three rivals, including Shinpei Kitagawa, 32, who was backed by the LDP and Komeito and is a nephew of former LDP lawmaker Tomokatsu Kitagawa.

The by-election was held because Tomokatsu, also a former vice environment minister, died.

Fujita’s victory showed that Nippon Ishin remains strong in the region.

In the gubernatorial and mayoral elections both held on April 7, candidates of Osaka Ishin no Kai, a regional party affiliated with Nippon Ishin, obtained victories.

In hopes to obtain cooperation and support from other opposition parties and unaffiliated voters, the JCP had party member Takeshi Miyamoto resign his Lower House seat and run as an independent in the by-election.

But Miyamoto gained only 14,027 votes, the fewest among the four candidates.

The JCP had expected major opposition parties would support JCP-affiliated candidates running as independents in single-seat constituencies in the Upper House election.

But the strategy now appears ineffective, and the number of such candidates will likely be limited.

Voter turnout in the Osaka No. 12 constituency election was 47.00 percent.

The two by-elections were held after the resignations of vice land minister Ichiro Tsukada, who said he did unsolicited favors for Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso, and gaffe-prone Olympics minister Yoshitaka Sakurada.

Abe came under fire for having appointed them to the posts and defending them after their problematic comments.

In the Okinawa No. 3 constituency, the Abe administration has also been strongly criticized for pouring earth and sand into a sea area off the Henoko district for reclamation. A prefectural referendum in February showed 72 percent of voters opposed the reclamation work.