Japan: ‘Year of the Boar’ unified elections kick off with 11 governors races

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Gubernatorial elections were officially announced in 11 prefectures Thursday, kick-starting campaigning for nationwide unified local polls.

Gubernatorial elections were officially announced in 11 prefectures Thursday, kick-starting campaigning for nationwide unified local polls.

With the population and industry becoming increasingly concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan area, candidates will spend the next month or so competing over their visions for reinvigorating regional economies and halting population decline.

 These so-called Year of the Boar elections feature unified local polls and a House of Councillors election in the same year — something that happens once every 12 years. The local elections will be a key barometer of how the ruling and opposition parties might fare in this summer’s upper house poll.

 According to The Yomiuri Shimbun’s calculations, about 980 elections will be held to choose heads of local governments and local assembly members.

 On Thursday, gubernatorial elections were officially announced in Hokkaido, Kanagawa, Fukui, Mie, Osaka, Nara, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima, Fukuoka and Oita. A total of 30 people including eight incumbents had filed their candidacies by the 5 p.m. deadline.

 In Osaka Prefecture, the prefectural governor and the mayor of Osaka city, who are members of the regional party Osaka Ishin no Kai, both stepped down early and plan to run for each other’s post in a double election.

 The governor and mayor aim to realize their vision of abolishing Osaka city and reorganizing it into special wards forming an Osaka metropolis.

 The Liberal Democratic Party, which opposes the initiative, is backing other candidates in both elections, and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party also have lined up against Osaka Ishin.

 Former Osaka Vice Gov. Tadakazu Konishi, who was tapped by the LDP for the gubernatorial election, said, “This is a golden opportunity to put an end to discussion of the metropolis idea.”

 Former Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura, who also is running in the race, trumpeted the significance of pushing ahead with the revamp of the city. “We will end the overlapping administration of the prefecture and the city, and bring growth to Osaka,” Yoshimura said.

 Hokkaido is the only gubernatorial race directly pitting a ruling coalition-backed candidate against a candidate supported by opposition parties.

 The CDPJ, Democratic Party for the People and other opposition parties have settled on former House of Representatives lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa as their sole candidate, and the LDP and Komeito are supporting former Yubari Mayor Naomichi Suzuki.

 Ishikawa and Suzuki both made their first campaign speeches in areas hit by the powerful earthquake in September last year and said they were committed to rebuilding damaged areas and addressing Hokkaido’s falling population.

 A split among conservative forces has emerged in Fukui, Shimane, Tokushima and Fukuoka prefectures, where candidates formally supported by the LDP are running against rival candidates backed by some of the party’s lawmakers and their supporters.

 The schism is especially pronounced in Fukuoka Prefecture. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, whose constituency is in the prefecture, and Diet members from the Nikai faction headed by LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai are supporting different candidates. There is apprehension within the LDP that ill feelings could remain within the party ahead of the upper house election.

 In addition to the gubernatorial elections, the first round of local elections also includes mayoral polls in six ordinance-designated cities, which will be announced Sunday, and assembly elections in 41 prefectures and 17 ordinance-designated cities, which will be announced March 29. Voting for these elections will be held April 7.

 The second round of local polls, which will be held April 21, includes mayoral and assembly elections for regular cities, ward mayor and assembly elections in Tokyo, and town and village mayoral and assembly elections.

 Lower house by-elections also will be held on April 21 in Osaka Constituency No. 12 and Okinawa Constituency No. 3.