Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government decided Friday that next year’s nationwide round of local elections will be held on April 12 and 26.
Under a bill approved by the Cabinet and expected to clear the Diet, elections for 11 prefectural governors and the mayors of five major cities will be held on April 12.
A second round to elect town and village heads and assemblies will take place two weeks later, on April 26.
Still more than six months away, next year’s elections are now the focus of Abe’s government, as it turns its attention more toward addressing local political issues and concerns ranging from economic revitalization and the growing prosperity gap between major cities and the rest of Japan, to depopulation and care for elderly rural residents.
But national and international issues, such as Japan’s participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement — opposed by many local leaders, including those in the Liberal Democratic Party — will also be on the minds of voters.
Voter interest will be high regarding the government’s policy on nuclear reactor restarts, especially in gubernatorial races in nuclear-dependent prefectures like Fukui, which hosts 13 commercial reactors.
Governors will also be elected in Shimane prefecture, which hosts two reactors, and Saga, which hosts four.
The other gubernatorial elections scheduled for April 12 include Hokkaido, Kanagawa, Mie, Nara, Tottori, Tokushima, Fukuoka and Oita.
Five major cities, including Sapporo, Hiroshima, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka and Sagamihara, plan to hold mayoral elections on the same day.
While candidates are still being vetted, the results of the local elections are expected to affect the national policies of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and the political fortunes of Abe.
The LDP presidential election is slated for September 2015. Losses by LDP candidates in April could strengthen intraparty opposition to his leadership.
The elections may also determine the fate of outspoken Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s quest to merge the municipal and prefectural governments into an entity with the same administrative status as Tokyo.
The move, supported by Hashimoto’s Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), a political group, is opposed by all of the other local parties, including the Osaka chapters of the LDP and Komeito, which hold the majority.
Hashimoto, though, still hopes to have the assemblies pass a basic merger plan early next year that could be put to a referendum on the same day as the local assembly elections.
“In the end, the basis of democracy is to let the people decide,” he said earlier this month.