Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat in Sunday's lower house by-elections in Okinawa and Osaka prefectures seen as a harbinger for an upper house election only a few months away.
The losses in two out of two by-elections represented a significant setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, head of the ruling party and who is on course to become Japan's longest-serving leader in November.
Since Abe took office for the second time in 2012, it is the first time the LDP has lost in national by-elections, excluding an uncontested lower house by-election in Kyoto Prefecture in 2016.
The last time the LDP could not win in national by-elections dates back to October 2009 and it is almost certain that lawmakers of the ruling coalition will grow more restless when they step up preparations for the House of Councillors election in July.
In the by-elections for the No. 3 constituency in Okinawa and the No. 12 district in Osaka, freelance journalist Tomohiro Yara, who received support from opposition parties, and Fumitake Fujita of the Japan Innovation Party won respectively for the first time.
"We will humbly accept the results," LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai told reporters at the party's headquarters in Tokyo. "I want to analyze in a hurry what caused the losses."
In the constituency in Okinawa, home to the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, pro- and anti-base candidates vied for a seat in the House of Representatives left vacant by Denny Tamaki who now serves as Okinawa governor.
Yara, 56, who won the by-election, is opposed to Okinawa Prefecture hosting U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The LDP's Aiko Shimajiri, 54, who used to be minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, supported a central government plan to relocate the base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less-populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, which makes up part of the constituency.
"The relocation to Henoko is not a solution," Yara said after his victory became certain. "The Okinawa people's will was strongly indicated."
On Sunday, there was also a lower house by-election in Osaka Prefecture, together with hundreds of races to pick mayors and assembly members in cities, towns and villages nationwide.
Abe's ruling party was hoping to build momentum in the run-up to the upper house election and mitigate the negative impact of recent resignations by two Cabinet members over controversial remarks.
In the first round of simultaneously held elections on April 7, the LDP won a gubernatorial race in Hokkaido and a majority of prefectural assembly seats but party divisions were revealed in some regional areas.
In Osaka, where Abe traveled to give a campaign speech on Saturday, the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito faced off against the Japan Innovation Party, which has seen strong local support for its plan to streamline the major western city's administration by creating a metropolis akin to Tokyo.
Fujita, 38, of the party competed against the LDP's Shimpei Kitakawa, 32, who was also backed by Komeito, and two other candidates in the Osaka No. 12 district.
"We will take a step toward new politics of a new era," Fujita told his supporters in the city of Neyagawa after winning the by-election, which was held following the death of former Deputy Environment Minister Tomokatsu Kitagawa.
Final voter turnouts in the Okinawa and ORead More