Photo/Illutration Hiroshi Hase, center, celebrates his gubernatorial election victory in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, early on March 14. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

KANAZAWA—The campaign for the Ishikawa Upper House by-election started on April 7 amid political confusion and ill-feelings in both the ruling and opposition camps.

Voting day is April 24 in what is seen as a prelude to the Upper House election this summer.

Four candidates are running in the by-election to fill the seat that was vacated by Shuji Yamada for his run in the Ishikawa governor’s race in March.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party was divided over which candidate to support in the gubernatorial election, and some insiders say the bad blood has spilled over to the by-election.

The opposition parties, meanwhile, failed to unite behind a single candidate.

Of the four candidates, Shuji Miyamoto, 51, has the most political experience. A former lawmaker, Miyamoto is endorsed by the LDP and recommended by its junior coalition partner, Komeito.

Tsuneko Oyamada, 43, is endorsed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and recommended by the Social Democratic Party, while Hiroshi Nishimura, 67, is endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party.

Kenichiro Saito, 41, is backed by the party that opposes subscription fees charged by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK).

The CDP decided to back Oyamada, a “parachute candidate” from Yamaguchi Prefecture, after failing to find a contender from the local area.

“People will understand the great significance in us taking such a long time to field our candidate,” Kazuya Kondo, the leader of the CDP’s prefectural chapter, said at a hotel in Kanazawa city on March 26.

Oyamada, who had run for a Diet seat in a different proportional representation district, stood next to him.

A senior member of the Ishikawa branch of Rengo, the Japan Trade Union Confederation, which supports the CDP, explained what happened.

“Back in the old days, a prefectural chapter politician from the local area or a Rengo member would have run in the election,” the official said. “But now, there is no one willing to take the leap of faith.”

Masayuki Ichikawa, secretary-general of the CDP’s prefectural chapter, repeatedly said the party must avoid “losing by default” again.

Supporters criticized the CDP after it failed to back any candidate in the Ishikawa No. 2 district for the Lower House election last fall.

The CDP also wants to gel as a party before the unified local elections next year.

Even in the Ishikawa governor’s election, the CDP couldn’t show leadership in choosing a candidate. It ended up supporting Yamada, an LDP member, who lost to Hiroshi Hase, 60, a former Lower House member also of the LDP.

The dual LDP candidates in that race highlighted a long feud within the party.

Two influential LDP members, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and now-deceased lawmaker Keiwa Okuda, were both from Ishikawa Prefecture, and they constantly bickered over party candidates at the local level.

Ishikawa Prefecture has long been a conservative stronghold, and the LDP occupies all the electoral seats in the Upper and Lower houses.

Opposition parties tried to chip away at the LDP’s dominance by forming an alliance to support a candidate from the Democratic Party for the People in the 2019 Upper House election.

But they could not generate such cooperation for this by-election.

The JCP in February announced that it would field Nishimura, secretary-general of the prefectural committee.

“We will continue to talk about unifying the candidate with other parties,” Kunihiro Akimoto, chair of the JCP’s prefectural committee, said at a news conference at the time.

However, discussions for an opposition alliance went nowhere.

The JCP did not know until the last minute that the CDP would field Oyamada.

“We were completely caught off-guard,” a JCP prefectural committee senior official said.

After the CDP announced Oyamada as its candidate, Akimoto said, “I think that only an opposition alliance can defeat the LDP’s politics.

“(But) we have already come to this point,” he continued. “It would be impossible to cancel our support for Nishimura (to form an alliance).”

The biggest challenge to the LDP in Ishikawa Prefecture could be the LDP.

In the governor’s race, the party’s lawmakers and local representatives were split into three conservative camps.

The LDP’s prefectural chapter in February decided to field Miyamoto in the Upper House by-election. 

During the gubernatorial race, Miyamoto avoided the spotlight to protect himself from the confusion in the party.

On March 19, LDP members appeared unified for the by-election at a ceremony to establish the election campaign headquarters.

However, a senior official of the LDP’s prefectural chapter said ill-feelings remain.

“Everybody knows who supported which candidate during the governor’s race,” the official said. “The grudges won’t disappear in just a month or so.”