Unified local elections will be held in April, although elections in northeastern Japan hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami will be postponed under a special law.

The election outcomes may greatly change Japan’s political landscape — at least on a local level. Many people now view the established political parties through skeptical eyes. These parties are now eager to sell their policies to deal with natural disasters and reconstruct northeastern Japan.

On April 10, there will be gubernatorial elections in 12 prefectures, including Tokyo and Hokkaido (the election in the disaster-affected Iwate postponed), prefectural assembly elections in 41 prefectures, except for Tokyo, Ibaraki and Okinawa and the disaster-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, and mayoral elections in five major cities and city assembly elections in 15 major cities.

The original plan called for holding on April 24 mayoral elections in more than 230 municipalities and assembly elections in around 730 municipalities. But elections in municipalities severely hit by the March 11 disaster will be postponed.

The Democratic Party of Japan was unable to field a candidate for the Tokyo gubernatorial election because the public harbors doubts about its ability to govern. The top opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, has failed to come up with a clear vision for Japan. It will support incumbent Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who is running as an independent.

In some areas, local parties are being formed that are mainly calling for local tax reductions, a reduction of the number of local assembly seats and salary cuts for assembly members — a platform that was spearheaded by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura.

By using local parties, some local government heads aim to control local assemblies so they can realize policy goals. Fueling such moves is criticism that local assemblies have failed to address the needs of residents.

But if local assemblies are controlled by local parties that have been established and are controlled by local government heads, they may lose the ability to scrutinize the moves of local administrations.

Many local government heads and assembly members are running on the tickets of local parties or as independents, having rejected running for the DPJ or the LDP. It is hoped that voters will pay close attention not only to mayoral or gubernatorial elections but also to local assembly elections because they are the venue of autonomy closest to the people.

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