Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara will not seek a fourth term, political sources said Tuesday, while Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa expressed his intention to run in the April 10 Tokyo race.
Former Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru, 53, is now also seen as more likely to throw his hat into the ring following the decision by the 78-year-old Ishihara not to run.
Up-and-coming businessman Miki Watanabe, 51, who founded the restaurant chain Watami Co., and former Upper House lawmaker Akira Koike, 50, of the Japanese Communist Party have already announced they will run.
Ishihara, who was first elected governor in 1999 and was re-elected by overwhelming margins in 2003 and 2007, is not expected to clarify his stance until March 11, the final day of the metropolitan assembly’s regular session, the sources said.
Matsuzawa held a news conference in Tokyo to announce his bid for the governorship. His second term as governor of Kanagawa ends in April.
The developments put in focus who the two major political parties will back in the contest. Matsuzawa, a former Lower House member from the Democratic Party of Japan, may draw support not only from the ruling party but also the Liberal Democratic Party due to his close ties with Ishihara.
While the DPJ has been trying to field its own candidate, people close to Ishihara have been making arrangements for Matsuzawa to run because the two governors have been close on such metropolitan policy issues as the environment and road traffic, the sources said.
Before he ran for governor, Ishihara served in the Upper House and then the Lower House as a member of the LDP. His son, LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara, said earlier that the party planned to ask him to seek re-election.
A native of Kawasaki, Matsuzawa was first elected governor in 2003 after serving as a prefectural assembly member and in the Diet as a DPJ member.
Among a series of gubernatorial, mayoral and local assembly elections scheduled for April across the nation, the race for governor of Tokyo will be the most closely watched.