SAITAMA – The race for Saitama governor began Thursday with five candidates in the running.
The Aug. 25 election was called after the incumbent decided to step down after serving a fourth four-year term.
The race is widely seen as a duel between Motohiro Ono, 55, a former diplomat and parliamentary vice defense minister backed by four opposition parties, and former professional baseball player and sportswriter Kenta Aoshima, 61, who is supported by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.
The three other candidates are former high school teacher Nobuhiro Takeda, 65, former local government official Shizue Sakurai, 63, and doctor Satoshi Hamada, 42.
Apart from Hamada, all candidates are running as independents.
Hamada is on the ticket of NHK Kara Kokumin wo Mamoru To (the Party to Protect the People from NHK), a new single-issue party advocating a pay-per-view model for the public broadcaster. The party won its first Diet seat in the July 21 Upper House election.
With Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga giving an endorsement speech on his behalf, Aoshima’s ties to the central government are clear.
He has pledged to improve health services in Saitama in addition to committing to promote sports and resolve a shortage of doctors in the prefecture.
Ono, a former member of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan, has aligned himself with outgoing Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda. He has said he will continue and develop the departing leader’s policies.
Ono is a unity candidate backed by the Japanese Communist Party as well as local chapters of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People and the Social Democratic Party.
He resigned from the Democratic Party for the People to run as an independent in this race. His platform includes a call for more support for startup companies, better disaster prevention and an expansion of transportation services.
The late withdrawal of former Upper House lawmaker Kuniko Koda, 53, led the main candidates to reassess their chances. Koda decided against joining the race just days before the campaign started after being hospitalized on Tuesday for heat-induced illness and exhaustion.