SAITAMA – With the support of four opposition parties, former Upper House lawmaker Motohiro Ono defeated on Sunday a candidate fielded by the ruling bloc in the Saitama gubernatorial election.
The election, in which three other newcomers ran, was a de facto duel between Ono, a 55-year-old former parliamentary vice defense minister, and former professional baseball player Kenta Aoshima, 61.
The gubernatorial vote followed last month’s House of Councilors’ election, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, secured a majority.
The result of the neck-and-neck race in the prefecture will deal a blow to Abe’s administration, which had dispatched Cabinet members, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, to deliver stump speeches.
Ono’s win is also likely to add momentum to efforts to enhance cooperation among opposition parties in national politics.
Ono was a unified candidate backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.
Voter turnout was 32.31 percent, up from 26.63 percent during the previous election in 2015.
Ono, who left the DPP to run as an independent in the election, has aligned himself with incumbent Kiyoshi Ueda, and said he will inherit and develop the departing leader’s policies, while also highlighting his own experience in national politics.
Ueda has decided to step down at the end of his fourth four-year term and supported Ono in the campaign. Before becoming governor, Ueda was a House of Representatives member of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan. The DPJ’s successor split into the DPP and the CDP.
Aoshima, who was backed by the ruling coalition, had called for a policy change and sought to tap into his strong name recognition as a sportscaster, pledging to promote sports while also committing to improving health services. Saitama Prefecture hosts one of the venues at which Rugby World Cup games will be held from next month.
Ono secured 923,482 votes, while Aoshima received 866,021 votes.
In a statement after the election, DPP head Yuichiro Tamaki said Ono’s victory had opened up a new path ahead of the next Lower House election.
“The positive trend should be strengthened further toward the Lower House election,” said Akira Koike, head of the JCP’s secretariat.
The remaining three candidates were former high school teacher Nobuhiro Takeda, former corporate employee Shizue Sakurai and Satoshi Hamada, a doctor and an official candidate of NHK Kara Kokumin wo Mamoru To (the Party to Protect the People from NHK).