Despite Government Victory, Troop Bill No Winner in Diet Election
TOKYO (AP) _ Leaders of the governing and opposition parties both claimed an edge today in a hard-fought parliamentary election seen as a referendum on the government’s fading bid to send troops to the Persian Gulf.
The clearest signal, though, seemed to come from the huge majority of voters who elected to stay home.
The governing Liberal Democrats breathed a little easier after the slim victory of Yoshihisa Oshima, a 50-year-old dentist, over Socialist Party member Michiko Goto in the Aichi prefectural by-election on Sunday.
The party, however, backed away from calling Oshima’s 45 percent to 43 percent plurality an endorsement of its troop deployment bill, which faces likely defeat in Parliament.
The opposition parties were less shy. They said the upper house election was a clear repudiation of the troop deployment proposal because Goto and the Communist Party candidate, Yukiko Seko, together tallied 55 percent of the vote, or 1,003,815 votes to Oshima’s 833,371.
Furthermore, the opposition’s strong showing came in what is normally a governing party stronghold and the home district of Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, the bill’s sponsor.
″This was proof that a great number of citizens oppose the Self-Defense Forces deployment bill,″ said Kanju Sato, the Socialist Party’s election committee chairman. ″We will fight harder to prevent the bill from being passed.″
Kaifu, whose already weak prime ministership would have been jeopardized by an election loss, issued an unusual statement declaring, ″I’m so glad that we won as a result of the efforts by the candidate and the entire party.″
The prime minister twice visited Aichi, southwest of Tokyo, and his party’s secretary general, Ichiro Ozawa, went three times.
More than 100 Liberal Democrat members of Parliament were sent in to back the party’s candidate, The Japan Times reported.
Nonetheless, Sunday’s voter turnout was just 38.7 percent of the 4.8 million eligible voters, one of the lowest figures ever in the postwar period in Aichi.
″Japanese voters are most interested in bread and butter and the bill has little to do with that,″ said Hideo Sato, international politics professor at Tsukuba University.
By-elections last year, when a consumption tax was the focus, drew more than 60 percent of eligible voters.
A special session of Parliament called to debate Kaifu’s ″United Nations Peace Cooperation Bill″ is scheduled to end Saturday. Ozawa, however, said it could be extended.
″The public does not sufficiently understand. If the government makes a greater effort, I think we can gain support,″ said Chief Cabinent Secretary Misoji Sakamoto.
The opposition, and some members of Kaifu’s own party, say the proposal would violate Japan’s post-World War II constitution, which bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
Kaifu has said the troops would be limited to non-combat roles. He has been under pressure from the United States and other nations that want Japan to provide more than money for the Persian Gulf forces.