• Kyodo

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Campaigning for the Oct. 15 Nagano gubernatorial election got under way Thursday, with four newcomers registering their bids to succeed incumbent Gov. Goro Yoshimura, 74, who has announced he will not seek a sixth term.

The candidates are former Vice Gov. Fumitaka Ikeda, 58, award-winning novelist Yasuo Tanaka, 44, Shigeo Kusama, a 50-year-old former worker at a welfare facility, and Sanae Nakano, a 52-year-old hospital adviser supported by the Japanese Communist Party.

The election is widely seen as an exclusive contest between Ikeda — nominated by Yoshimura as his successor and supported by various groups in the prefectural assembly — and Tanaka, who is backed by citizens’ groups and the Nagano chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).

Kicking off his campaign, Ikeda appeared in front of a Nagano hotel before about 800 supporters and pledged to improve infrastructure in the prefecture and foster local industries to cope with the information-technology revolution.

Tanaka appealed for a people-oriented government, promising to open up the governor’s office to residents and hold prefectural assembly meetings at various locations across the prefecture.

“I want democracy back (at the level of prefectural administration),” Tanaka told his supporters at his campaign office here. “I will do my best to make sure Nagano is the first in the country to move toward local autonomy.”

Kusama vowed to ensure school class sizes are reduced to around 30 pupils as part of education reforms, while Nakano pledged to shift the local government’s priority from public works projects to welfare policies.

Nakano, speaking to voters in front of JR Nagano Station, said she is the only candidate who has a clear blueprint for a better future for the prefecture.

Since Tanaka declared he was entering the race earlier this month, interest in the election has risen.

Under the circumstances, undecided voters are likely to influence the results.

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