Independent candidate Etsuko Kawada, 51, a longtime supporter of victims infected with HIV through contaminated blood products, appeared to be leading in the House of Representatives by-election for the Tokyo No. 21 single-seat constituency, exit polls showed Sunday.

The seat was one of two Diet posts being contested Sunday, the first by-election since electoral law revisions enacted earlier this year dictated that by-elections be held only twice annually.

Despite the legal revision, however, voter turnout remained low in both polls as the campaigns apparently failed to generate interest among the electorate.

In the Tokyo No. 21 constituency, four candidates vied for the Lower House post left by Joji Yamamoto, who resigned from the Diet last month following his arrest on suspicion of fraud.

Votes were cast at 75 polling stations in the western Tokyo cities of Tachikawa, Akishima and Hino, with eligible voters totaling 350,593. Voter turnout stood at 32.46 percent as of 6 p.m.

In addition to Kawada, those battling for the seat were Teiko Kudo, 51, an employee of the city of Kokubunji who is backed by the Social Democratic Party; Akihisa Nagashima, 38, a U.S. think-tank researcher supported by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan; and Sekiichi Kato, 43, a former Tachikawa assembly member backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Kawada and her son, a hemophiliac who came forward to declare himself HIV-positive, helped drum up public support for the clarification of facts leading to the blood-product scandal.

Yamamoto was arrested Sept. 4 on a charge of fraud in connection with his alleged diversion of 20 million yen of his former secretary’s state-paid salary. He submitted his resignation to the Lower House four days later.

Meanwhile, in Shiga Prefecture, a by-election was held for a House of Councilors seat vacated by the resignation of Tenzo Okumura earlier this year.

The candidates in that race are former university professor Shunyu Norikumo, 52, who is running on the DPJ ticket; LDP-backed Hidetoshi Yamashita, a former bank employee whose father was also a Diet member; and Takashi Kawauchi, backed by the JCP, of which he is a senior official at the prefectural level.

Norikumo is backed by the Liberal Party and Mushozoku no Kai, a group of independent lawmakers whose official English name is “Independents,” while Yamashita is supported by New Komeito and the New Conservative Party.

Okumura resigned from the Upper House in an unsuccessful attempt to run for a House of Representatives seat in the June general election.

As of 7:30 p.m., voter turnout stood at 38.86 percent, election officials said.

Incumbent guvs lead

Voting in gubernatorial elections in the prefectures of Niigata and Okayama took place Sunday, with incumbent governors apparently outpacing challengers in both races, according to exit polls.

In Niigata Prefecture, Gov. Ikuo Hirayama, 56, appeared to have defeated Kazumi Kobayashi, 64, a former Niitsu mayor running as an independent, and Shoji Togashi, 69, a former hospital director backed by the Japanese Communist Party.

Meanwhile, in Okayama Prefecture, incumbent Gov. Masahiro Ishii was expected to have beaten newcomer Junpei Ishii, according to exit polls.

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