Yesterday came the announcement of the candidate list for the House of Councillors Yamaguchi Prefecture by-election, the first national election since the ostensibly tainted December 2012 House of Representatives election.
Four candidates will be vying for the seat:
Former Shimonoseki Mayor Ejima Kiyoshi
(Liberal Democratic Party, with endorsement (suisen) of the New Komeito)
Former Minister of Law Hiraoka Hideo
(Independent, with the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Japan and Green Wind and support (shiji) of the Democratic Socialist Party
Former Shunan City Councilwoman Fujii Naoko
(Happiness Realization Party)
On paper, the outcome is a no-brainer: Yamaguchi is a part of the LDP heartland, the prime minister's seat is in the prefecture, Eijima was the mayor of Shimonoseki, which is inside the prime minister’s district. Fighting against Eijima will be one serious challenger, former HoR District #2 seat holder for the DPJ Hiraoka Hideo, and two marginal candidates. Considering that LDP will invest infinite amounts of time and effort -- as was demonstrated by the presence of LDP vice president Komura Masahiko (HoR, Yamaguchi District #1), Election Affairs Commission chairman Kawamura Takao (HoR, Yamaguchi District #3) and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries minster Hayashi Yoshimasa (HoC, Yamaguchi) at the campaign launch ceremony in Yamaguchi City yesterday – and the Yamaguchi LDP chapter will do just about anything to avoid any chance of the results embarrassing the prime minister, the actual conduct of a vote on April 28 seems superfluous.
With the result not in doubt, what are left are ancillary issues:
1) How hard will the New Komeito work for its disproportionally powerful ally the LDP?
2) With an Eijima victory, will the LDP go immediately into a power struggle with the DPJ over House of Councillors committee chairmanships, given that the DPJ’s claim for control of the House arises from its refusal to strike from its House caucus rolls members who have submitted their resignations from the party? Or will the LDP avoid conflict, preferring to bide its time in the certainty it will win absolute control of the House of Councillors in July? Common sense would counsel patience but patience is never a given when discussing the relationship between the LDP and issues of control.
3) To what extent will the results, if the gap in between Eijima and Hiraoka ends up smaller than predicted, will be seen as having been a referendum against the construction of the Kaminoseki nuclear power station?
What political observers really want to see is whether or not the DPJ puts up a credible fight in supporting Hiraoka's bid, or whether the DPJ remains in the thrall of the anachronistic, contractionary and depressing message that led the party to wipeouts in both the 2005 and 2012 House of Representative elections.