Official campaigning for local-level elections started Thursday, with the ruling and opposition parties set to vie for seats in nearly 1,000 polls nationwide to choose governors, mayors and assembly members.
The revitalization of regional economies amid a falling population is likely to be the main issue in local elections, which are held simultaneously every four years to cut costs and improve voter turnout.
While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in the Lower House election in December, a poor performance in the local elections would be a blow to the administration, which has seen ruling party-backed candidates defeated in a series of gubernatorial polls in recent months.
On Thursday, official campaigning for gubernatorial elections started in 10 prefectures ahead of voting on April 12. The LDP and the main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan, will face off in two prefectures — Hokkaido and Oita.
In Hokkaido, Harumi Takahashi is seeking a fourth term, backed by the LDP and its junior coalition ally, Komeito. She will be challenged by Noriyuki Sato, a former TV news anchor who has the support of the DPJ and other opposition parties.
In Oita, Katsusada Hirose, who is seeking a fourth term as governor with the backing of the LDP and Komeito, is facing Ban Kugimiya, a former mayor of Oita backed by the DPJ.
Speaking in Ikoma, Nara Prefecture, with Gov. Shogo Arai, who is seeking a third term, LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki lauded Arai’s success in attracting firms to the area.
“We would like to make what Mr. Arai has been doing in Nara one of the models of our initiatives to revitalize regional economies,” Tanigaki said.
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, DPJ leader Katsuya Okada said his party is paying particular attention to the gubernatorial races in Hokkaido and Oita, as well as the mayoral elections in Sapporo and Oita.
Without referring to the Abe administration, Okada said that “pork-barrel politics and a condescending attitude” will not revitalize regional economies.