Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu's top political aide resigned Monday following a devastating defeat for the government-backed candidate in Tokyo's gubernatorial election.
The setback further weakened Kaifu's already shaky administration, but the prime minister's support appeared to be safe for the moment, analysts said. Kaifu's term ends in October.Otherwise, the news was good for the governing Liberal Democratic Party.
It scored overwhelming victories over the opposition Socialists in nationwide elections Sunday for the governor's seat in 13 of Japan's 47 prefectures and for special municipal and local assemblies.
The nation's second-largest party had encountered severe public criticism for opposing a government proposal to contribute billions of dollars to the U.S.-led allies in the Persian Gulf War.
The Liberal Democrats picked up 161 seats in prefectural assemblies for a total of 1,543, while the Socialists won 345 seats, a loss of 98, according to official results.
The Socialists fell to last place in the total number of governorships any one party holds and fell behind even the Japan Communist Party in total number of votes, Kyodo News Service reported.
By far the most important election, however, was in Tokyo, where 80-year-old Shunichi Suzuki won a fourth term against television news anchorman Hisanori Isomura, who was backed by Kaifu's administration.
In the aftermath, LDP Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa, 48, announced he was resigning to take responsibility for the loss. Suzuki won with 2,292,846 votes against Isomura's 1,437,233.
"I think the Liberal Democratic Party won a vote of confidence by the people as a whole, but it is a result of my discretion that there was confusion in the party over the Tokyo gubernatorial election," Ozawa told a news conference.
Ozawa was widely considered the man who held the weak Kaifu administration together, and his departure could make it even more difficult for the prime minister to forge support for government policies.
Last month, Liberal Democratic leaders asked Suzuki not to run, claiming he was too old for the job. They joined the Buddhist-backed Komeito and the Democratic Socialist Party in backing Isomura.