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Campaigning began Friday for local assembly elections in 44 prefectures and 15 major cities, with an April 8 ballot date that will coincide with other polls for which campaigning is already under way.

About 3,770 people are running for 2,544 local-level assembly seats, down 90 from the previous unified regional elections four years ago, due mainly to changes in constituency boundaries after a wave of municipal mergers the central government has promoted in recent years.

The ballot date is timed to coincide with the elections of governors in 13 prefectures and mayors in four cities. Unified elections are held every four years with the aim of increasing administrative efficiency and voter turnout.

Local assembly members have been criticized for failing to serve as a check against the administrative branch of regional governments. This has allowed for budgetary crises and bid-rigging involving administrative officials, including governors.

No prefectural assembly elections are being held in Ibaraki, Tokyo or Okinawa. The 15 cities holding municipal assembly elections are Sapporo, Sendai, Saitama, Chiba, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Niigata, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and Sakai, Osaka Prefecture.

Mainline political parties have been striving to rebuild their regional vote-gathering machines ahead of the summer’s House of Councilors election. A fierce contest is expected in the prefectural assembly elections.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to face a tough battle just to hold onto the status quo. More than 80 percent of its candidates are incumbents.

The Democratic Party of Japan has sharply increased the number of candidates it is backing from the elections four years ago.

Asano tax cut pledge

Former Miyagi Gov. Shiro Asano has pledged to offer tax incentives for Tokyo companies employing young people by suspending the capital’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics and using its 100 billion yen in funds being earmarked annually if he wins the April 8 Tokyo gubernatorial election.

“I want to give 100 billion yen in tax cuts in a way that is clear to Tokyo residents,” said Asano, 59, in a news conference Thursday at the Japan National Press Club.

He said the funds will be used to give incentives to Tokyo companies employing young people as full-time workers, finance efforts to increase buildings’ earthquake resistance, alleviate income taxes, and for other purposes.

In sharp contrast to the incumbent, Shintaro Ishihara, 74, who has been pushing the plan for Tokyo to host the 2016 Olympics, Asano said he thought the plan “clearly needs to be suspended,” after hearing from people during the campaign.

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