Official campaigning for quadrennial unified local elections began across Japan on Thursday, with results expected to impact the House of Councilors election in the summer.
Incumbents and new faces filed their candidacies for the first round of the local elections, set to be held on April 7, which will include gubernatorial races in 11 prefectures, mayoral polls in six major cities, and assembly elections in 41 prefectures and 17 large cities.
Revitalizing regional economies and stemming population declines are among major issues in the regional elections, which are held simultaneously every four years with the aim of cutting election costs and increasing voter turnout.
Among the gubernatorial races, the governor’s race in Hokkaido will be the only one to feature candidates backed by the ruling coalition and multiple opposition forces.
In Kanagawa, Nara, Tottori and Oita, incumbents supported by both the ruling bloc and some opposition parties will compete with candidates who are backed by the Japanese Communist Party or who are unaffiliated.
Mie will see a head-to-head competition between an incumbent recommended by the ruling coalition and a newcomer backed by the JCP.
In Fukui, Shimane, Tokushima and Fukuoka, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been divided on which candidate to endorse, triggering a feud within its local groups.
Osaka abruptly joined the prefectures holding gubernatorial elections after Gov. Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura resigned earlier this month to seek a swap of their current positions, in an attempt to realize the goal of reshaping the city into a metropolitan government similar to that of Tokyo.
The LDP, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has faced an uphill battle in the past when unified local elections coincide with triennial Upper House elections, a situation that arises every 12 years, with the party struggling to secure local members’ support in the national race as they are “worn out” by their own campaigns.
A crushing defeat in the Upper House election in 2007 led to the collapse of the first Abe administration, which lasted for less than a year. The prime minister returned to power in late 2012.
The second round of unified local elections to pick mayors and assembly members in Tokyo’s 23 wards, smaller cities, towns and villages will be held on April 21. That poll will coincide with House of Representatives by-elections in the Osaka No. 12 district and the Okinawa No. 3 constituency.