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The 2024 By-Elections: The Candidates, Chaos, and Conservative Disorder

The CDP dominated the by-elections amid growing concerns over campaign interference, leftist collaboration, and conservative fragmentation.



Voters looking at posters after the Tokyo 15th Ward by-election for the House of Representatives in Koto Ward, Tokyo. (@Sankei by Ryu Kajiwara)

On April 28, three Lower House by-elections took place in constituencies in Tokyo and the prefectures of Shimane and Nagasaki. The main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), swept all three seats with the help of its good friends in the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).

One of the most notable outcomes unfolded in Shimane's 1st district, traditionally a stronghold for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Despite being the sole contest for the LDP, CDP candidate Akiko Kamei prevailed over its candidate, Norimasa Nishikori. 

Due to its slush fund scandal, the LDP opted against fielding candidates in the Tokyo 15th and Nagasaki 3rd districts.

Beyond the absence of the LDP, these by-elections were remarkable for a multitude of other reasons. One such reason was how poorly every leading candidate stacked up alongside Conservative Party of Japan (CPJ) candidate Dr. Akari Iiyama. Another was the unprecedented spike in campaign obstruction, primarily carried out by the renegade YouTube "party" Tsubasa no To. Although the CDP insists otherwise, these elections also effectively marked the consolidation of its alliance with the JCP. So, what does all this mean for the future of Japan's politics?

Tokyo Battleground

Akari Iiyama

Islamic scholar Dr. Akari Iiyama announced that she would run on the CPJ ticket in Tokyo two months before the election. Indeed, this marked the first election for the incipient party. An expert in her field, she has been one of the few Japanese voices of reason in the debate on the Palestinian conflict

Japan is currently grappling with an underdeveloped military, precarious energy security, and mounting anxieties surrounding immigration. One could argue these issues are among the nation's foremost concerns. Iiyama's campaign promises included constitutional reform recognizing the Self-Defense Forces as Japan's official standing army. She also campaigned for greater use of nuclear energy and a more rational immigration system. 

Bystanders listen to candidates' speeches for the Tokyo 15th Ward by-elections on April 16. Koto Ward, Tokyo (@Kyodo)

Fearmongering and Debate Dodging

Conversely, the winning CDP candidate, Natsumi Sakai, maintains a resolute stance against constitutional reform. She is also opposed to expanding nuclear energy. As her past comments might suggest, her aversion to nuclear power seems more rooted in paranoia than logic. In a now-deleted 2011 Twitter (at the time) post, Sakai stated:

"I've been having stomach pains and diarrhea for the past three days. Today, I suddenly had a slight nosebleed. (>_<) Could these be early symptoms of radiation sickness? This is so scary!( ; ; )"


Sakai's Twitter post came shortly after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. However, she lived in Tokyo, nowhere near Fukushima Prefecture. While she was not a politician at the time, her remarks were highly irresponsible and insulting to the people of Fukushima. Instead of acknowledging this and apologizing, she simply deleted the tweet. Perhaps fearing she would be questioned about it, Sakai refused to participate in an April 16 debate between candidates. Her ostensible reason? She was "too busy." 

Playing Independent

Another contender was "independent" writer and five-time philanderer Hirotada Ototake. Like Sakai, he opposes the expansion of nuclear energy. During the April 16 debate, after much prevarication, he disclosed that he was also against constitutional reform. Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike turned out to support Ototake on his campaign trail despite his persistent claims to be running as an independent. Adopting Koike's Tomin First Party trademark green sash and displaying her posters behind him during press conferences did not make these claims any more convincing. 

Ototake also bizarrely received the backing of Democratic Party for the People (DPP) leader Yuichiro Tamaki. Lately, Tamaki has emerged as a vocal advocate for addressing the potential risks associated with renewable energy, constitutional reform, and preserving the imperial line. Declining a request from the CPJ to endorse Iiyama, he instead threw his support behind Ototake, a candidate who shares none of these concerns.

Conservative Challengers' Mixed Fortunes

Iiyama was not the only conservative candidate on the ballot, however. Sanseito candidate Rina Yoshikawa's campaign promises largely mirrored those of Iiyama. However, she failed to gain traction in the election, garnering only 5.1% of the votes. 

Yui Kanazawa of the Japan Innovation Party also favored constitutional reform and nuclear energy. When Naturalized Japanese citizen Lee Xiaomu publicly endorsed Yoshikawa's campaign, however, it likely alienated any conservative voters she hoped to attract. Xiaomu is not just Chinese but the son of a high-ranking officer in Mao Zedong's Red Guards. Lee also rose to prominence as an adult entertainment guide for tourists in Kabukicho and has been divorced five times. 

Tsubasa no To's Aggressive Interference

By far the most shocking aspect of these elections was Tsubasa no To's hostile and dangerous intimidation and sabotage. Led by rabidly anti-(Shinzo) Abe Atsuhiko Kurokawa, the party targeted the street speeches of opposition candidates, particularly the CPJ. 

On April 20, CPJ speakers were scheduled to give a speech at Kameido-Nakamachi Station. Just before 7 pm, Kurokawa and Tsubasa no To candidate Ryosuke Nemoto began berating and verbally abusing the CPJ with megaphones. Kurokawa and Nemoto maintained that they were seeking a debate with Iiyama and CPJ founder Naoki Hyakuta. 

Rather than engaging in civil discourse, their language and conduct veered sharply towards intimidation tactics. "What, are you going to cower behind a woman?" Nemoto sneered, attempting to bypass Secretary General Kaori Arimoto as he tried to confront Hyakuta. "Come out! What are you, sixty? I'll beat your ass!" he continued. Due to this interference, the CPJ ultimately canceled its scheduled speech.


Abusing Freedom of Speech

Things did not stop there. Tsubasa no To continued to follow the CPJ everywhere, driving behind their campaign car, screaming abuse and profanity. Kurokawa and Nemoto even besieged the CPJ at its campaign headquarters. To avoid the pair, the CPJ was forced to cancel several more speeches and stopped announcing the time and location of its speeches online. Instead, the party resorted to guerilla speeches. 

Many other candidates, including Ototake at a speech on April 16, also experienced this harassment. Sakai, too, canceled a speech planned at Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station on the same day. Reports suggest that she was concerned that Tsubasa no To might show up. 

A by-election for Tokyo's 15th Ward of the House of Representatives was announced, and the audience listened to candidates' speeches on April 16. Koto Ward, Tokyo (@Kyodo) (Part of the image has been compressed)

CDP-JCP Matrimony

With the Japanese Communist Party's assistance in securing the by-election victories, the focus now shifts to how the CDP's dynamic with the party might evolve.

The Japanese Communist Party withdrew its slated candidate from the Tokyo by-election and threw its support behind Sakai. In its April 17 issue, party organ Shimbun Akahata featured a photo of Chairwoman Tomoko Tamura and Sakai together on its front page. Reading like an official endorsement, Tamura promised to give Sakai the party's "full-fledged support." 

Western and Northern Frontlines

In the Shimane 1st District and Nagasaki 3rd District by-elections, too, the JCP refrained from fielding candidates and supported CDP candidates. According to a Kyodo News exit poll conducted in the Shimane 1st District, Akiko Kamei received 90% of Japanese Communist Party supporters' votes. 

Although the CDP has tried to maintain a distance from the JCP, it will now have to return the favor in the next general election. As Secretary-General Akira Koike explained at an April 30 press conference, "mutual respect is essential." The JCP is no longer interested in a one-sided cooperative relationship. 

Conservative Disarray

The collaboration between the CDP and the JCP should serve as a clear directive for conservative parties on their course of action. NHK Party leader Takashi Tachibana noted in an April 30 video how the disunity among conservative parties favors the left wing. 

In the last House of Representatives election in Hokkaido's 1st district, CDP member Daiki Michishita won with 118,000 votes. He competed against the LDP's Toshimitsu Funahashi and the Japan Innovation Party's Satoru Kobayashi. "If the Innovation Party hadn't run," Tachibana suggests, "the 35,000 votes they received could have mostly gone to Funabashi, potentially securing the LDP's victory." 

A similar scenario unfolded in Hokkaido's 2nd district. Here again, the presence of Innovation Party candidates led to the defeat of an LDP member, underscoring a discernible trend.


With no Innovation Party candidates from Hokkaido's 4th district onward, the vote margin between the CDP and the LDP narrowed to just 700 votes. "Had the Innovation Party fielded a third candidate," Tachibana says, "LDP nominee Hiroyuki Nakamura might have faced defeat. This highlights the substantial impact of the Innovation Party's candidacy on the LDP's prospects."

If conservatives continue to neglect coordination and mutual assistance, the prospect of a CDP-JCP administration is a real and harrowing possibility. 


Author: Daniel Manning