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Japan's ruling party defeated in parliamentary by-elections amid COVID-19 surge

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Japan's ruling party defeated in parliamentary by-elections amid COVID-19 surge
Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party lost all three parliamentary seats in by-elections on Sunday after politicians had resigned in response to allegations of bribery and vote-buying. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

April 26 (UPI) -- Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party lost all three parliamentary seats in by-elections, delivering a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga ahead of general elections in October.

The LDP's candidates were crushed at the polls Sunday as the Suga administration failed to live up to public expectations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Suga's approval rating plummeted to below 40% this year as COVID-19 cases rose in the country, Kyodo News reported Monday.

Corruption allegations also have dogged the ruling party. The by-elections in Hiroshima and Hokkaido were held to fill seats vacated by former ruling party lawmakers. Politicians had resigned after they were accused of buying votes and bribery, NHK reported Monday.

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The Hiroshima election was held after Anri Kawai, wife of former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, lost her seat. Anri Kawai was found guilty of "vote-buying" during a 2019 election, according to Kyodo.

"Voters passed a severe judgment on the Suga Cabinet," said main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan secretary general Tetsuro Fukuyama. "It is the result of a buildup of people's discontent over scandals involving politics and money and the novel coronavirus response."

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Suga may have not hit the campaign trail on behalf of his party's candidates. According to Kyodo, the prime minister did not travel to Hiroshima or Nagano prefectures during the campaign to show support for his party.

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Lack of voter interest also may have hindered turnout, which was the lowest on record for Nagano and Hokkaido at 44.4% and 30.46%, respectively, according to the report.

Leading Japanese newspapers are blaming the government for the defeat.

The Asahi Shimbun said in an editorial statement that the government's coronavirus response and the "money issues" of ruling party politicians were responsible for their loss.

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A poll conducted from Friday to Sunday by local paper Nikkei showed 65% of respondents in Japan said they disapprove of Suga's handling of the deadly virus.

Japan has said the Tokyo Olympics is to proceed as planned, despite declaring a state of emergency Friday for key regions.

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