• Kyodo

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A candidate backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was elected governor of Gunma Prefecture on Sunday, defeating the four-term incumbent.

The LDP fielded Masaaki Osawa, 61, a former chairman of the Gunma Prefectural Assembly, to challenge the current governor, Hiroyuki Kodera, 66.

The election was marked by a rare split in the conservative camp in a prefecture known as a traditional LDP stronghold; it has produced three prime ministers in the postwar period.

The results of the Gunma race may provide some relief for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his LDP as they fight to maintain the ruling coalition’s majority in the House of Councilors next weekend.

Kodera had been supported by the LDP in previous campaigns, but he broke ranks with the ruling party in the latest election due to differences over vice governor candidates and other matters.

In the campaign, Kodera emphasized the prefecture’s fiscal health and good employment figures. He also took advantage of his office to obtain organized support from local businesses as well as labor groups.

Osawa criticized Kodera for trying to stay in the office too long, mobilizing locally elected Diet members of the LDP, including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, as well as local assembly members for his campaign.

Osawa also relied on organized votes from supporters of New Komeito, the LDP’s ruling coalition partner.

Other contenders included Ryu Yamamoto, 48, an independent former Gunma assembly member who previously served as secretary to the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi; Shunichi Yoshimura, 63, a lawyer backed by the Japanese Communist Party; and Masumi Shimizu, 58, a hotel owner.

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