Japan’s ruling party has lost all three parliamentary by-elections held on Sunday, loosening the prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s grip on power ahead of national elections later this year.
Mr Suga said he takes the results seriously amid voter discontent with his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well as scandals involving his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
“I humbly accept the election results as the judgment by the people,” Mr Suga told reporters on Monday.
“We will further examine the results and correct what needs to be corrected.”
The votes to fill vacant seats – one in the lower, more powerful, house and two in the the upper house – were the first significant elections since Mr Suga took office in mid-September.
Two of the seats were left by ruling party legislators who resigned over money-for-favours scandals, and the third had been held by a main opposition parliamentarian who died of Covid-19.
The by-elections were considered a major litmus test for Mr Suga, who must call national polls before the end of the four-year term for the lower house on October 21. His term as prime minister also ends on September 30.
Mr Suga had enjoyed high support ratings of around 70% when he replaced Shinzo Abe, who resigned as prime minister because of health reasons after becoming Japan’s longest-serving leader.
But Mr Suga has seen his popularity plunge over a series of money-for-favours scandals by his party MPs and criticism over his handling of pandemic measures and the slow progress of vaccinations.
The prime minister has also faced criticism for pushing for the Olympics to go ahead this summer amid the pandemic uncertainty.
The seats from Hokkaido, Nagano and Hiroshima were won by candidates backed by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ).
“Voters made a severe verdict on the Suga cabinet,” said the CDPJ secretary general secretary general Tetsuro Fukuyama.
“Voters have become increasingly discontent with scandals of politics and money, and slow responses to the coronavirus.”
A leadership change, however, is unlikely since opposition parties are not quite seen as a responsible, viable alternative.