The Japanese Communist Party became on Friday the first political party to field a candidate for the April 13 Tokyo gubernatorial election.

Yoshiharu Wakabayashi, 52, chairman of the JCP’s Tokyo metropolitan committee, announced his intention to run.

Public attention is focused on whether the highly popular Gov. Shintaro Ishihara will seek re-election and when he will make his decision known.

It is the first time that the JCP has fielded a candidate for the Tokyo gubernatorial race from within its own ranks. It had initially tried to find a candidate outside the party organization who could attract wider voter support, but failed in the attempt.

“It is true that we failed to put up a candidate for the election from among ordinary citizens, but I will ask for wide cooperation from Tokyo residents in the election,” Wakabayashi said.

Wakabayashi, who has served as head of the JCP’s Tokyo metropolitan committee since 1997, had planned to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Ishihara, widely assumed to be the front-runner, has signaled his intention to seek re-election but has not made a formal announcement, merely saying that a governor needs to serve at least two terms to achieve sufficient results.

He said he will do so March 7, the last day of the current session of the metropolitan assembly.

If he runs, Ishihara is expected to be backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

The Democratic Party of Japan has yet to announce a candidate, although DPJ leader Naoto Kan said earlier this month that the opposition party would field its own candidate for the race.

Speaking at a news conference with Wakabayashi, JCP Chairman Kazuo Shii lashed out against Ishihara for his “extremely hawkish and anti-Communist positions.”

Shii said there is a widening gap between Tokyo residents and Ishihara, who he accused of cutting back on welfare spending.

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