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Staff writer OSAKA — With the gubernatorial by-election just around the corner, campaign officials for the three major candidates are making last-ditch efforts to win the support of the floating voters, who may once again decide the outcome of the poll. Recent media surveys have found that Fusae Ota, 48, a former official of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, is the leading candidate in Sunday’s election, followed by Makoto Ajisaka, a 66-year-old professor emeritus at Kansai University, and Tatsuto Hiraoka, 59, managing director of the private-school group Seifu Gakuen. Roughly half of the respondents to those surveys, however, said they have yet to decide which candidate they will vote for. “By no means do we have a safe lead over Ajisaka,” said Fumio Ito, a campaign official for Ota. Ota is backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party — specifically its headquarters in Tokyo — and its coalition allies, the Liberal Party and New Komeito, as well as the Democratic Party of Japan and the Reformers Network Party. In addition, Rengo Osaka, the local chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, and the Kansai Economic Federation (Kankeiren) are supporting her.

But Fumio Ito, secretary general of Rengo Osaka and a campaign official for Ota, remains cautious. “The results of public surveys cannot be trusted as is, because we never know how many of those respondents will actually go out to the polls,” he said. “Supporters of the Japanese Communist Party, which is backing Ajisaka, are more likely to go to vote than those supporting our candidate. “What we will do until Sunday is appeal to voters that Ota is best for Osaka’s top post,” he said, pointing to her 25-year career at MITI and her two years as vice governor of Okayama Prefecture. She can deal with the problems Osaka is facing today, ranging from the prefectural government’s dire fiscal condition to the record-high jobless rate, Ito said. Ota’s camp sees Hiraoka, fielded by the Osaka chapter of the LDP in conflict with the party’s Tokyo headquarters, as no threat, claiming that Sunday’s election will be a contest between Ota and Ajisaka. “Floating voters are surely the key to deciding the election, and we hope the turnout rate reaches at least 40 percent,” Ito said. “But we’re not sure whether a higher rate would work in favor of our candidate.”

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