Japan’s Ruling LDP Facing Tough Fight in Nara Gubernatorial Race

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People listen to a candidate in the Nara gubernatorial election in Nara City.

The Liberal Democratic Party is facing a tough election battle in the Nara gubernatorial race, but candidates backed by the ruling party in other prefectures are looking at relatively favorable conditions, according to an analysis of opinion polls and reporting by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Nine gubernatorial elections will be held next Sunday, along with mayoral elections in six ordinance-designated large cities. Ballots will also be cast that day in assembly elections for 41 prefectures and 17 ordinance-designated large cities.

The LDP is concerned about the Nara race for governor, as conservative support is basically split between two candidates — an independent endorsed by the LDP’s Nara prefectural chapter and the incumbent governor, who is seeking his fifth term as an independent.

Leading the pack in the Nara race is the official candidate of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party). Ishin is seeking to win the gubernatorial and mayoral races in Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City, the party’s home turf, as well as the Nara gubernatorial race, to boost momentum for the House of Representatives by-election in adjacent Wakayama Prefecture to be held on April 23.

The LDP appears strong in the Hokkaido gubernatorial race, which is the only gubernatorial race involving an all-out battle between the ruling and opposition camps. Its prospects are also good in the Oita gubernatorial poll, which the LDP also sees as an effective battle between the ruling and opposition camps. LDP-backed independent candidates in the Fukui and Shimane gubernatorial elections are leading their races as well.

“We expected a tougher battle in Oita, but we’re doing better than expected,” LDP General Council Chairperson Toshiaki Endo said about the prefecture, where the opposition camp is historically strong. “[The LDP-backed candidate] is riding on the recovery of the Cabinet approval rate.”

In Nara Prefecture, however, where the conservative support base is strong, the Ishin candidate may benefit from the rivalry of the two candidates who are close to the LDP. If Ishin secures the Nara governorship, the party may expand its strength in the prefecture.

“If we’d been able to join forces on one candidate, we could have put up a stronger fight,” a senior LDP member said.

Ishin is gaining momentum. The incumbent Ishin governor is seeking reelection in Osaka gubernatorial election, and the party’s new candidate for Osaka mayor is leading that race. Current Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, a former Nippon Ishin chief, is retiring.

“This reflects voters’ desire for reformist policies to continue,” said Takashi Endo, Nippon Ishin’s Diet affairs chief.

Ishin is prioritizing the April 23 Wakayama Constituency No. 1 by-election. A good showing in local elections next Sunday in the Kansai region “would have a great impact on the following by-election,” party chief Nobuyuki Baba said.

Five by-elections for Diet seats will be held on the same day as mayoral elections in smaller cities and elections for municipal assemblies.

The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is trying to gain momentum in the Hokkaido gubernatorial race, in which the independent candidate backed by the CDPJ is lagging behind the LDP-backed candidate.

“Democratic” elements used to enjoy strong support in Hokkaido, as the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers’ Union and other labor unions had strong influence.

“We want to recover [in the election], as we have basic strength in Hokkaido,” said CDPJ Policy Research Committee Chairperson Akira Nagatsuma.

In Oita Prefecture, the LDP-backed candidate leads the gubernatorial race. The CDPJ plans to field a candidate on the party ticket in the House of Councillors’ by-election for this prefecture, which is expected to be an effective two-way battle between the ruling and opposition camps.

“The candidate in the gubernatorial election is campaigning in a manner that doesn’t evoke the presence of the party,” CDPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said. “The result of the gubernatorial election will be different than the by-election.”