The 11 gubernatorial elections slated for April 13 are expecting a total of 35 candidates to run, down from 41 at this point in the lead up to the elections four years ago, according to a Kyodo News survey released Wednesday.

Pundits say the decline reflects a hesitancy on the part of major parties to back anyone amid the growing success of independent candidates, including in the latest gubernatorial races in Nagano and Chiba prefectures and the Yokohama mayoral election.

In Tokyo, Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has signaled he will seek a second four-year term and is due to announce his candidacy March 7, the final day of the current metropolitan assembly session.

The Japanese Communist Party last week became the first party to put up a candidate for this year’s Tokyo race. The Democratic Party of Japan also plans to field a challenger to Ishihara.

In the Kanagawa race, which pundits believe will help clarify the preferences of unaffiliated voters, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has yet to support a candidate. House of Representatives lawmaker Shigefumi Matsuzawa, who left the DPJ, has announced he will run as an independent.

The LDP, the largest member of the ruling coalition that groups New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, also has no plans to field a candidate for Mie governor. Its Saga prefectural chapter has meanwhile sown confusion by backing four candidates.

In Tottori Prefecture, chances are growing that the incumbent will be returned without a contest for the first time in 21 years, whereas the field in Hokkaido is crowded with seven candidates.

As part of the local elections, the gubernatorial races will be held April 13, along with the poll for the mayor of Sapporo and 44 prefectural and 12 major city assemblies.

In total, 2,361 gubernatorial, mayoral and assembly elections are scheduled for April 13 and 27. By-elections to fill vacancies in both houses of the Diet will be April 27.

The quadrennial series of local elections will be an important litmus test of voter support for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose term as LDP president expires in September.

Koizumi is expected to seek re-election as head of the largest party.

The elections will meanwhile test whether Naoto Kan, who returned as DPJ chief in December, can lead the largest opposition party any closer toward gaining enough seats to oust the LDP from power.

Doi wary over merger

Takako Doi, leader of the Social Democratic Party, expressed wariness Wednesday over cooperating with the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party in upcoming elections.

“If merging is the main goal, then it will be difficult for the SDP to join in,” Doi said. “It will be hard to get public support if we give any impression of inconsistently merging and separating. There would be vagueness over where the focus (of policies) lies.”

The DPJ and the Liberal Party agreed last Thursday to cooperate in 34 single-seat constituencies in 10 prefectures in the next House of Representatives elections.

The two parties will also cooperate in selecting electoral candidates for about 100 single-seat constituencies.

While the Lower House election does not need to be held until the middle of next year, speculation continues that it will be held this year.

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