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Japanese Governing Coalition Survives Election Test - 2002-10-28

Japan's governing coalition survived a key test, with conservative-backed candidates winning most of the seats up for grabs in Sunday's legislative by-elections.

Candidates supported by the Liberal Democratic Party took five of the seven Parliament seats in the by-election, while Japan's largest opposition party, the Democrats, captured only one. An independent was elected as well. The results slightly improve the majority held by the three-party ruling coalition.

Chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda on Monday called the results good news for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Mr. Fukuda said the election results signal approval from the electorate of the Koizumi structural reform policies.

But some political observers counter that the historic low turnout in all seven districts actually reflects sluggish public interest in Mr. Koizumi's agenda and of politics in general. In one constituency, in Chiba prefecture, outside Tokyo, turnout was about 24 percent, meaning three out of four eligible voters did not cast a ballot.

The main opposition Democratic Party grabbed only one seat when a 33-year-old graduate student of Yale University in the United States, Jun Saito, emerged victorious. He will take the seat of a former LDP top official, Koichi Kato, who resigned amid a money scandal.

The seat vacated by former foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, was won by a 70-year former Parliament member, Yukio Hoshino, who was backed by the LDP.

An independent, who snubbed the LDP's direct support, but nonetheless regarded as a conservative, Kenji Eda won his contest in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. Mr. Eda, a college professor and TV commentator, was previously a secretary to former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

The poor performance of the Democrats is certain to increase scrutiny of the party's leadership. Its campaign manager, Hirotake Akamatsu says the low voter turnout aided ruling coalition candidates.