Photo/IllutrationYasuhiko Funago of Reiwa Shinsengumi, left, with the party leader Taro Yamamoto, smiles upon learning that he is likely to win a Diet seat in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on July 21. (Shiro Nishihata)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

The Upper House election victories of two politicians who require assistance to move around have given disabled people a voice in the Diet and bolstered the confidence of the new Reiwa Shinsengumi party.

Yasuhiko Funago, 61, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Eiko Kimura, 54, who has cerebral palsy, won Upper House seats for the first time in the proportional representation constituency in the July 21 election.

The two severely disabled politicians were fielded by Reiwa Shinsengumi, whose leader, Taro Yamamoto, 44, failed to win a seat in the poll.

However, the party founder was all smiles on the night of July 21.

“I have no regrets at all,” Yamamoto told supporters after the results came in. “I will do everything I can as much as possible as the head of the party.”

He indicated he would run for a Lower House seat.

The party designated Funago and Kimura as “specified candidates” on its candidate list for the proportional representation constituency under a new system that started with this election because, in Yamamoto’s words, it is extremely important to have a representative in the Diet to appeal the everyday issues of disabled people.

Specified candidates are the first to be given seats if the party obtains enough votes.

“I want people to look at me and rethink about what services and support are needed for people with disabilities,” Funago said through a helper at the news conference on election night.

Funago cannot move his arms and legs, nor can he speak without assistance.

He answered reporters’ questions by gazing at characters or words on a panel that he wished to communicate and having the helper read them out.

Kimura also requires assistance getting around. She became disabled below her neck in a fall when she was 8 months old.

“Each and every vote cast by people with disabilities who have been in tough situations has touched my heart,” Kimura said after learning about her victory. “And that makes me feel that I have to work hard.”

Yamamoto obtained the most individual votes among candidates on Reiwa Shinsengumi’s proportional representation list, but the party did not obtain enough votes for a third seat that would have sent him back to the Upper House.

Yamamoto, an actor-turned-activist, ran in the 2013 Upper House election from the Tokyo prefectural district for the first time and won on a campaign opposing nuclear power generation.

He served as a co-leader of the Liberal Party, but after the party merged with the Democratic Party for the People, Yamamoto parted ways and established Reiwa Shinsengumi in April.

The new party fielded a total of 10 candidates in the election. They ran on such campaign promises as abolishing the consumption tax and increasing public spending.

The party said it has collected more than 400 million yen ($3.7 million) in donations from about 30,000 people.