• Kyodo, Jiji

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Koichi Shiota, a former industry ministry bureaucrat, won the Kagoshima gubernatorial election Sunday, beating incumbent Satoshi Mitazono and five others.

Shiota, 54, a first-time candidate who ran as an independent in the southwestern Japan prefecture, emphasized his ministry experience of around 30 years during his campaign that focused on revitalizing the local economy.

Mitazono, 62, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito, vowed to improve child care and welfare for the elderly but his campaign was affected by the government’s response to a spike in the number of coronavirus infections in the prefecture and deadly downpours that hit the Kyushu region in recent weeks.

Without securing support from any political party, Shiota engaged in grassroots activities to seek support during his election campaign, visiting small companies and farmers in the prefecture one by one.

Shiota’s pledge to help small businesses overcome the coronavirus crisis by utilizing his experiences at the industry ministry drew wide support. He served as director-general of the ministry’s Kyushu Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Among other contenders, former Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito, 72, drew support from the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Although he highlighted his achievements during the three terms in office, Ito was unable to collect sufficient votes for returning to power.

Shiota garnered 222,676 votes, while Mitazono collected 195,941 votes and former Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito, 72, gained 132,732 votes.

In the previous Kagoshima gubernatorial election, Mitazono achieved a victory after pledging to break away from nuclear power generation. But he later approved the continued operations of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima and drew criticism over his inconsistent policy stances.

The focus of Sunday’s election was on whether Mitazono’s handling of the prefectural government and his coronavirus response measures were adequate.

The ruling coalition-backed candidate’s loss in the election provides another blow to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has been struggling to stem waning public support following a series of scandals.

The race, which saw a record seven candidates, also included Ryuko Aoki, 57, a former TV announcer, and Fumiko Yokoyama, 73, a doctor endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party.

Voter turnout was 49.84 percent, down from 56.77 percent in the previous election in 2016.

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