980 Races Expected in Japan’s Upcoming Local Elections

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Staff put up a board in Osaka on Saturday for the upcoming unified local elections.

A total of 980 local leadership and assembly races are expected to be held in the upcoming unified elections, according to a tally by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry as of Feb. 1.

The first half of the unified local elections, which include races to pick leaders in prefectures and government ordinance-designated cities, is scheduled for April 9. The second half of the elections, including those to elect mayors of other cities and city assembly members, is set for April 23.

Held once every four years, these local elections were originally intended to be conducted in a unified manner, to heighten voters’ interest and cut administrative and other costs. However, the so-called unification rate, which indicates the percentage of all local elections held on such an occasion, is expected to be only 27.40% this time.

The unification rate has been declining for such reasons as the deaths or resignations of local leaders and the dissolution of assemblies. The forthcoming unified local elections will be the 20th since this system was introduced. The upcoming elections seem likely to set a new record low for the unification rate, below the 27.46% seen four years ago.

In the first half of the unified local elections, gubernatorial races will be held in nine prefectures, such as Hokkaido, Osaka and Oita, with official campaigning to kick off March 23.

Also on April 9, the mayors of six government ordinance-designated cities, including Sapporo and Osaka, will be elected, with official campaigning to start March 26. Assembly elections are also planned in 41 prefectures and 17 government ordinance-designated cities, with official campaigning to begin on March 31.

On the same day as the second half of the unified local elections, House of Representatives by-elections are scheduled to be held in four constituencies — Chiba No. 5, Wakayama No. 1 and Yamaguchi Nos. 2 and 4. Official campaigning will start April 11.

A by-election is also expected to be held for a House of Councillors seat in Oita Prefecture, with official campaigning set to begin April 6. In addition to the results of the unified local elections, the results of the by-elections are likely to impact the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Possible impact on national politics

No major national elections are scheduled for 2023 at this point. Given that, the upcoming unified local elections will serve as a touchstone for the strength of the ruling and opposition parties.

The focus will be on whether the Liberal Democratic Party, which secured 50.9% of prefectural assembly seats in the previous unified elections, can maintain its majority. The LDP secured only 47.6% of prefectural assembly seats in 2007, shortly before the government was taken over by the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan.

Each party’s target for seats reflects its current strength. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which was defeated in both the 2021 lower house election and the 2022 upper house election, has not specified a numerical target.

In contrast, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) has set a goal of increasing its number of local assembly members from about 450 to more than 600. The LDP’s ruling coalition partner Komeito aims for the victory of all 1,500 candidates it will field in the unification elections, including those for city, town and village assemblies.

The Japanese Communist Party’s goal is to maintain the about 1,200 seats that it won in the previous elections, while the Democratic Party for the People is accelerating efforts to double the number of its winning candidates to about 400.