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Japan’s Governing Party Wins Its First Election Test

October 1, 1989

TOKYO (AP) _ A governing party candidate won a seat in Parliament’s upper chamber Sunday in the party’s first electoral test since the opposition won control of the house in general elections in July.

Sunday’s election also was the first for the administration of new Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and was regarded as an indication of public sentiment as Japan prepares for elections for the more powerful lower house.

Itsuo Nomura, an attorney and local assembly member from the governing Liberal Democratic Party, received 467,643 votes, or 51 percent.

Socialist candidate Shizue Hosogane had 394,123 votes, or 43 percent. Communist candidate Setsuo Yamada received 52,642, or 5.7 percent.

The election was to fill the vacancy left by the death in August of Liberal Democratic Party legislator Niro Iwakami.

″No words can express my feelings now,″ Nomura said in a televised interview as he celebrated his victory in Ibaraki, 65 miles northeast of Tokyo. ″I feel a great responsibility.″

The Socialists had campaigned primarily on a platform of abolishing an unpopular sales tax the Liberal Democrats pushed through late last year.

The 3 percent tax, part of a sweeping change that included income tax cuts, is widely opposed by merchants and lower- and middle-income consumers.

A bill to abolish it was submitted in the opposition-dominated upper house last week. The Liberal Democrats now are working out a compromise tax revision in an effort to deflect criticism.

″This is a victory for the new Kaifu Cabinet and shows the people’s faith and understanding of our plans for tax revision,″ Chief Cabinet Secretary Ichiro Ozawa, the main government spokesman, said at a news conference.

Ms. Hosogane, the Socialist candidate, told reporters: ″The (Liberal Democrats) stressed it would ‘revise’ the tax and the people seemed to accept that, even though the government has not made clear in any way how it will go about it.″

Socialist Party Secretary General Tsuruo Yamaguchi said on television the election ″was a question of either abolishing the tax or maintaining it. We weren’t able to get that message across adequately to the people of Ibaraki.″

The Socialists also had hoped that Ms. Hosogane, a schoolteacher and a political novice, would attract voters who are tired of veteran politicians and who want to see Parliament invigorated by fresh faces.

Rocked by money and sex scandals and outrage over the tax, the Liberal Democrats lost their majority in the upper house in July for the first time since the party was formed in 1955.

The party retains its majority in the lower house and has been trying to restore its popularity before the next lower house elections, possibly in January. The elections must be held before July 1990.