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Politics

Japan kicks off busy election calendar with 11 gubernatorial races

Osaka leaders seek to merge prefecture and city for Tokyo-like mega city

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, right and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura resigned their posts in order to run for each other’s positions in snap elections next month. (Photo by Tomoki Mera)

TOKYO -- Campaigning for 11 gubernatorial races officially started in Japan on Thursday, the first in a slew of regional elections leading to the upper house election this summer.

This year will see both the nationwide regional elections and the upper house race, a crowded political schedule that happens every 12 years. With politicians having to campaign for multiple races, it tests the organizational power of each party.

The last time the regional and upper house elections were held in the same year, in 2007, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat in the upper chamber contest, winning only 37 seats.

Osaka is in the spotlight for the unusual situation of the incumbent governor running for mayor and the current mayor seeking the governorship. The political gambit was cooked up by the Osaka Ishin no Kai party, to which both the governor and the mayor belong.

The regional political party wants to retain control of both posts to push a once-defeated initiative to merge the prefecture and city governments into one metropolitan body like in Tokyo. But the unusual moves, designed to skirt term limits, drew heavy criticism from opposition parties.

"This is a great opportunity to reject the rule of Osaka Ishin no Kai," said former Deputy Gov. Tadakazu Konishi, the gubernatorial candidate for the LDP, which is an opposition party in Osaka.

"We will eliminate the overlap between our prefectural and city governments through the metropolitan plan," former Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura, the chief of policy research for Osaka Ishin, said in his stump speech for the governorship.

In Hokkaido, the LDP's Naomichi Suzuki, a former Yubari mayor, is facing off against Tomohiro Ishikawa, a former lower house lawmaker backed by several opposition parties. Both have vowed to boost reconstruction efforts following a damaging earthquake on the island last year.

"I will do everything to bring about recovery as quickly as possible," Suzuki said. "Regardless of the extent of the damage, the true path to reconstruction requires support from the country and from the prefecture," Ishikawa said.

Meanwhile, the Fukui, Shimane, Tokushima and Fukuoka races have shaped up into an internal battle within the LDP.

Voters will go to the polls on April 7 for these gubernatorial races, as well as for six mayoral elections, including for Osaka, and 41 prefectural assemblies. Another vote for smaller regional positions and two lower house seats will be held on April 21.

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