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Cablegate: Testing Abe: By-Election in Osaka 9th District

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FM AMEMBASSY TOKYO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7322
RUEHOK/AMCONSUL OSAKA KOBE 1781
INFO RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO IMMEDIATE 4147
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TOKYO 005913

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV JA
SUBJECT: TESTING ABE: BY-ELECTION IN OSAKA 9TH DISTRICT


NOTE: OSAKA IS POST OF ORIGIN FOR THIS TELEGRAM.
SENDING FROM TOKYO DUE TO UNAVAILABILITY OF SERVER. END
NOTE

1. (SBU) Fast on the heels of the Liberal Democratic
Party (LDP) Presidential election that launched the Abe
Cabinet on September 26, Osaka is host to the first
skirmish in a long Japanese political season leading to
unified local elections next April and culminating in
next July's Diet Upper House races. This will be the
first test of the Abe Cabinet's electoral strategy in
an opposition stronghold. Both the ruling coalition
and opposition parties are devoting their full
attention to turning the electoral tide in their favor
next year by making their mark in this previously
scheduled Lower House by-election in Osaka's 9th
District, to replace LDP lawmaker Takeshi Nishida, who
passed away after his election last fall. October 11
marked the official start of campaigning as the
candidates were formally announced. Party leaders and
heavy-hitters continue to make the rounds in the
district, including scheduled visits by PM Abe on
October 15 and former PM Koizumi on the 16th to mark
the climax of the race.

-------------------
CLASH OF THE TITANS
-------------------

2. (SBU) T@93ATTQ(emocratic Party of Japan
(DPJ) strongman Ichiro Ozawa. All parties and pundits
see this race as a harbinger of which party will
prevail in next year's Upper House elections -- and
since both Abe and Ozawa are staking their reputations
on this race, many view this election as a measure of
the lifespan of the Abe Cabinet and the viability of
the DPJ as an effective opposition party. Given that
the conventional wisdom holds that it is time for the
electoral "balance" to shift away from the LDP and that
this seat is considered "winnable" by the DPJ, the
Democrats have more to lose if the LDP keeps the seat.
The outcome hinges on LDP Secretary General Hidenao
Nakagawa's election strategy, and whether junior
coalition partner New Komeito has enough organizational
muscle to make new inroads in neighborhoods in which it
has not been successful in the past. If not, DPJ will
have put a dent in Abe's strong beginning and
successfully test marketed its campaign messages for
the Upper House elections.

--------------
THE CANDIDATES
--------------

3. (SBU) Although the race is largely seen as a fight
between the leaders of the ruling coalition and the
opposition, politics remains local in the 9th District
and personalities still matter. The half-million
member district, a bed-town to the north of Osaka City,
is made up predominantly of young and middle-aged white
collar commuters. 43-year-old Nobumori Otani (DPJ)
represented this district for two terms until last
year's electoral rout, and is from Ibaraki City, the
population center of the district. The George
Washington University-educated protege of DPJ Secretary
General Yukio Hatoyama came out strong and fast in his
attempt to recapture his old seat and he commands an
early lead in the polls. A pro-American centrist
candidate well known to the Consulate, he commented to
poloff that he is running on "pocketbook issues" such
as problems with healthcare insurance, the viability of
the Japanese pension system, growing economic
inequalities, and a dissatisfaction with the economic
reforms under Koizumi.

4. (SBU) LDP candidate Kenji Harada, a 58-year-old
second-generation politician whose father is a former
political rival of the late Nishida, started his

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campaign late after the LDP Osaka Chapter and Party
headquarters bickered over whether to accept his
candidacy. Harada is from the smaller town of Minoo
and referred to as an "outsider" by people in Ibaraki.
Harada was booed during a speech warming up for the LDP
Presidential candidates visiting Ibaraki in September.
He is depending on Abe's coattails, the organizational
support of Nakagawa and the LDP machine and, according
to campaign manager and Dietmember from the neighboring
8th District Takashi Otsuka, Komeito's highly
disciplined institutional voters. Since Osaka business
organizations are loath to provide campaign
contributions to political parties, they have told us
they are under great pressure from the LDP to provide
in-kind support in getting out the vote and offering
free logistical services to the campaigners. His joint
LDP-Komeito campaign headquarters sports glitzy
displays of campaign slogans and photographs and
personal messages from the Cabinet. Following the DPRK
announcement that it had conducted a nuclear test on
Monday, Secretary General Nakagawa asked voters to not
"send the wrong message to North Korea" by dealing a
defeat to the LDP.

5. (SBU) The Harada campaign claims to be closing in on
Otani at the halfway point in the campaign, and poised
to overcome him, but polls have not been published yet.
A senior LDP Dietmember from Osaka separately confirmed
to us that he felt increasingly confident that --
largely thanks to Komeito -Q Harada would emerge the
winner. Nonetheless, it is still Otani's race to lose
at this point.

RUSSEL

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