Abe ally’s governorship loss seen as backlash to military revision

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 10:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 10:33pm

A candidate backed by Japan's ruling coalition has lost a race for a governorship in an apparent backlash against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision to end a security policy that has kept the military from fighting abroad since 1945.

The election on Sunday in the western prefecture of Shiga was the first high-profile poll since Abe's cabinet adopted a resolution ending the ban on exercising "collective self-defence", or aiding a friendly country under attack. It was the most dramatic change in Japanese security policy in decades.

Takashi Koyari, who ran with the backing of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner, was defeated by former opposition Democratic party lawmaker Taizo Mikazuki.

The loss sends a warning signal to Abe's administration, which has seen voter support drop below 50 per cent in public opinion surveys after the July 1 shift in security policy. "This confirms that this was not a popular idea," said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. "The LDP will continue to have to worry about more defeats to follow."

Three more governorship races are set for later this year, to be followed by a series of local polls nationwide next April. No general election is mandated until 2016.

Sunday's result was also a rare victory for the opposition. The Democratic Party, demoralised after losing to the LDP in the 2012 election that returned Abe to power for a rare second term, steered clear of formally endorsing Mikazuki but sent top executives to campaign on his behalf.

Voters were also swayed by concern over the safety of nuclear power more than three years after the Fukushima disaster.

Shiga is next to Fukui prefecture, home to several nuclear plants. Abe is keen to restart operations at some of the nation's 48 reactors - all of which are now offline after the Fukushima crisis - to reduce the cost of electricity and imported fuel.