Event will be skipped for the first time in 10 years, leaving fans to find some other way to throw money at their favorite idol units.

For idol singer fans in Japan, the biggest event of the year isn’t the release of a single or opening of a concert tour, but the AKB48 General Election. Since 2009, the annual poll has asked fans to vote for their favorite performer across top-tier idol supergroup AKB48 and its regional multi-vocalist sister acts, with the winner being crowned in a lavish, tear-filled ceremony.

The election usually takes place in mid-summer, but this year fans will have to make other plans for the warm months, as AKB48’s management has announced that there will be no election this year. This will be the first time for the event to not take place since its inaugural iteration in 2009.

A notice posted to AKB48’s official blog reads:

“Thank you for your continued support of the AKB48 group.

This year, we have decided not to hold the AKB48 General Election, an annual event that reached its 10-year milestone last year.

The AKB48 group will be dedicating itself every day to being the sort of group that all fans can cheer for from the bottom of their hearts.

We ask for, and look forward to, your continued support of the AKB48 group.”

▼ Previous election photos

No reason has been given for the decision, though some might be tempted to attribute it to the relative lack of variety in the election’s winners. Over the course of 10 years, only five idols have risen to the top, with Rino Sashihara, of Fukuoka-based HKT48, winning four times, including thrice in a row (2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017). However, the General Election hasn’t ever really been about surprises and suspense. Fans obtain ballots by purchasing CDs and other merchandise, and the election is a major revenue source as the hardest of the hardcore idol supporters buy in bulk in order to pad the ballot box with votes for their personal favorite idol.

▼ Rino Sashihara

The more plausible speculation is that AKS, the company that manages AKB48 and its affiliated acts, has been under heavy criticism since the start of the year. In January, Maho Yamaguchi, an idol with Niigata-based NGT48 (whose members have been eligible for the AKB48 General Election since 2016) revealed that she’d been stalked and attacked as she attempted to enter her home and that NGT48’s management had covered the incident up for a month. She then appeared in front of fans to apologize for “causing a commotion,” followed by NGT48’s then-manager Etsuro Imamura stepping down from the position and being reassigned to the Tokyo office.

▼ Maho Yamaguchi

Things were then relatively quiet for a while, but last week Takahiro Hosoi, manager of the Akihabara theater in which AKB48 holds regular concerts, tweeted a picture of himself and Imamura knocking back drinks together in a pub, along with the message “Don’t be fooled by stupid reports,” implying that the criticism of how Imamura handled the attack on Yamaguchi was unjustified. During the ensuing backlash, AKS announced that it has terminated Imamura’s contract, and that Hosoi has resigned from the company.

With all of that swirling around in the background, and the timing of the announcement that there will be no General Election this year, it seems like AKS thinks it would be best to keep a lower profile for a while. However, it seems significant that the statement specifically says there will be no election “this year,” leaving the door open for voting, and the revenue it brings in, to return in the future.

Source: AKB48 official blog via Hachima Kiko, Yahoo! Japan News/Oricon News via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he wonders if this technically makes AKB48 a monarchy.