Local Elections

Japanese voters are heading to the polls this weekend to choose their local leaders. Nearly 1,000 elections will be held to pick governors, mayors, and assembly members. NHK WORLD's political commentator Mayuko Ambe shared her insights on the elections. She explained why they're so important for the big political parties.

This is the first time people around the country will be heading to the polls since Lower House elections in December.

So, members of the ruling and opposition camps see it as an opportunity to make extra gains. And local assembly members play an important role in gathering voter support during general elections.

Prime Minister Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, and the main opposition Democratic Party, are watching two governor's races in particular. Their candidates will battle it out in Hokkaido and the southern prefecture of Oita. Both camps are treating these races as opportunities to build strength ahead of Upper House elections next year.

LDP candidates have done pretty well in general elections since the party came back to power 3 years ago. But members face challenges at the local level.

During the past year, they've lost several gubernatorial elections. They're hoping to move past those defeats. They describe the upcoming local elections as "the final stage of winning back power."

In the last local elections 4 years ago, they were the ruling bloc. Now, they want to go back on the offensive. Members say victory will allow them to "solidify the party's foundations."

Japan first held unified local elections in 1947. For a few decades, voting rates were high... even reaching 90 percent in some cases. But they've been steadily dropping since then. Four years ago, the figure for the gubernatorial elections was just 53 percent.

And this time, there's no governor's race being held in Tokyo. So that drives down interest as well. But candidates are addressing many important issues, including unemployment, economic revitalization, and depopulation in rural areas. We'll just have to wait and see if these issues connect with voters.