OSAKA — In what is expected to be a hard-fought campaign with repercussions for the ruling coalition, the race for the Osaka governor’s seat officially kicked off Thursday morning. Disagreement between Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo and its Osaka chapter over who to nominate has led to a split, with Tokyo backing a former bureaucrat and Osaka supporting a school administrator. Four candidates, including Fusae Ota and Tatsuto Hiraoka of the LDP, Makoto Ajisaka, who is backed by the Japanese Communist Party, and Seizo-Hideyoshi Hashiba, a businessman with no official political backing, began campaigning in front of early morning commuters in and around Osaka. The election takes place Feb. 6 and comes about six weeks after “Knock” Yokoyama, elected to a second term last April, resigned last month and was indicted on molestation charges. Unlike last year’s campaign, though, where Yokoyama’s personal popularity carried him to victory, no clear front-runner has emerged. Ota, 48, a former Ministry of International Trade and Industry bureaucrat and the LDP headquarters’ choice, began her campaign in Kitahama, Osaka’s financial district. She spoke in broad generalities, promising to revive the prefecture by carrying out administrative and fiscal reforms and revitalizing the local economy. Before a crowd of about 1,000 people, Ota also said she would take various policy measures after listening to the advice of local citizens. “I consider the people of Osaka to be shareholders. (If elected,) I will provide the shareholders with maximum service at minimum cost,” Ota claimed. “I will steer Osaka by listening to the advice of the people and allowing them to participate (in the policymaking process).” Ota is also backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, New Komeito, the Liberal Party, Kaikaku Club and Rengo Osaka, the local political arm of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo). Major business organizations, including the Kansai Economic Federation, are also giving her their full support. The LDP, Liberal Party and New Komeito make up the ruling bloc at the national level. Angered that the party headquarters did not consult them when choosing Ota, LDP leaders at the Osaka chapter rebelled by backing 59-year-old Hiraoka. Hiraoka began his campaign at a newly opened office in Kita Ward, just opposite the LDP’s Osaka chapter. The director of a school group in Osaka, Hiraoka appeared in front of about 2,000 supporters, including nearly 80 LDP Osaka prefectural and municipal assembly members. And while he, too, spoke in general terms, he also listed a few priorities, including deregulation, education and independence from Tokyo. “This is where reform of the country can start. Osaka is a prefecture of small and medium-size companies, and I will help them to prosper by advancing deregulation,” he said. Ajisaka, a professor emeritus at Kansai University backed by the Japanese Communist Party and 70 local citizens’ groups, spoke to nearly 1,000 people gathered in front of the Hanshin and Hankyu department stores in Umeda. Ajisaka, who was defeated by Yokoyama in last April’s election, offered the most detailed prescription of the three candidates. “The prefecture’s financial situation is now the worst in Japan. Huge public-sector debts, especially money wasted on bay-area development projects, have brought the prefecture to the brink of bankruptcy,” Ajisaka said. He is waging the same campaign as last April, which includes promises to halt large-scale public works projects, channel tax funds into education and social welfare, and provide tax relief to the elderly.
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