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Tokyo voters rebuke Abe's party in municipal polls

TOKYO VOTERS REBUKE ABES PARTY IN MUNICIPAL POLLS

Voters in Tokyo have delivered a historic rebuke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Sunday's elections for the capital's municipal legislative assembly.

The Tokyo People First -- the new political party formed by the 64-year-old Governor Yuriko Koike -- swept the board electing all but one of the 50 seats it contested. Together with support from the Komeito Party -- Abe's coalition partner, the governor now holds an absolute majority in the legislature.

The LDP won only 23 seats, down from the 57 it garnered three years ago and not that many more than the 17 seats won by the Japanese Communist Party.

Public approval for the Abe government has been falling precipitously in recent weeks, from around 60 percent plus approval down to 48 percent, still a relatively high number for a Japanese premier in office for five years.

Abe has been dogged by two scandals in which he is accused of using his influence to do favors for his friends. It should be remembered that Koike's two predecessors as governor had to resign because of corruption charges.

Koike won considerable support from Tokyo voters by inviting the news media into meetings that had been closed in the past.

"The results were better than I had anticipated," Koike said after they became official. "I believe our policies won a mandate from the voters."

Shigeru Ishida, an LDP member of parliament who is trying to position himself as a possible successor to Abe, called the vote an "historic defeat" for the LDP.

The big question in Japan is what Koike's next move will be. She has already demonstrated that she is by far the most popular politician in Japan, but how she can translate that into national politics is the question.

It is hard to see how a party that proudly and loudly proclaims that is "Tokyo People First" will play in the hinterland, although that does not preclude forming an alliance of some kind with the LDP or others in future elections.

She has studiously avoided commenting on many of the national issues facing Japan, such as amending the constitution or responding to threats from North Korea. She has stuck mainly to local matters such as keeping costs of the 2020 Olympics down.

After five years in power, the LDP and Abe are looking a little shopworn and may be vulnerable to a fresh face. Abe is determined to stay in power through his third term, becoming the longest serving premier. But the fallout from the Tokyo elections brings that ambition into question.

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