National / Politics

Nara Mayor Gen Nakagawa snares third term in close race; LDP-backed candidate crushed

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Nara Mayor Gen Nakagawa, 41, was declared the winner of Sunday’s mayoral election by just 2,000 votes Monday morning, a narrow difference that election officials say was caused by voter confusion.

But Nakagawa and his chief rival Makoto Yamashita, 49, who both ran without party support, crushed Liberal Democratic Party-backed candidate Yoshiko Asahiro, 56, by more than 100,000 votes as the backlash against the ruling party seen in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election continued to reverberate.

Nakagawa, who won a third term, finished the race with 61,934 votes to challenger Yamashita’s 59,912 — a margin of just 2,022 votes. The turnout rate was 51 percent.

A controversy emerged when it was disclosed that some of the ballots had Nakagawa’s name misspelled with different kanji. Yamashita initially refused to concede, but the Nara municipal election committee declared Nakagawa the winner late Monday morning.

“The margin of victory was extremely small. I’ll make an effort to lend a careful ear to the thoughts and feelings of those who voted for other candidates,” Nakagawa said Monday morning.

The mayor ran on his record, emphasizing financial reforms he had achieved over the past eight years including a reduction in the city’s public debt and an increase in health care and child care workers in public and private facilities. He also pointed to the explosion in tourism that has taken place under his tenure, including a nine-fold increase since 2012.

But the tight race between Nakagawa and Yamashita, who lost the Nara gubernatorial election to the incumbent back in 2015, obscured the fact that both men received nearly 122,000 votes — over 100,000 more than LDP-backed Asahiro.

Asahiro received campaign support from internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, who is ideologically close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and represents a neighboring electoral district that will merge with the city’s district.

But as Abe’s popularity continued to drop nationwide last week following his party’s drubbing in the Tokyo poll, Asahiro began playing down her association with the LDP late last week, emphasizing instead her desire for reform and her experience as an NPO leader.