TOKYO — Official campaigning began Tuesday for key lower house by-elections in Osaka and Okinawa prefectures in what is seen as a prelude to the upper house election this summer.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is competing with opposition candidates seeking to streamline administrations in Osaka and block a controversial government plan to relocate a U.S. military base within Okinawa.
The April 21 by-elections coincide with the second round of local elections to be held simultaneously across the country. In the first round on Sunday, the LDP garnered broad voter support by winning a key gubernatorial race in Hokkaido and a majority of prefectural assembly seats, but left party divisions in some regional areas.
The LDP is seeking to contain the impact of the abrupt resignation of a deputy land minister who caused a stir by saying he gave a road project special treatment so as to please Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.
After winning both the gubernatorial and mayoral elections Sunday in Osaka, western Japan, political group Osaka Ishin no Kai aims to maintain its momentum in the by-election in the Osaka No. 12 district, where the seat has been left vacant following the death last year of former Deputy Environment Minister Tomokatsu Kitagawa.
Four candidates are vying for the seat, including his nephew Shinpei Kitakawa, 32, fielded by the LDP with support from its coalition partner Komeito, and Fumitake Fujita, 38, of the Japan Innovation Party, which centers on the Osaka Ishin group.
The two other candidates are unaffiliated — Shinji Tarutoko, 59, a former communications minister under the government led by the then Democratic Party of Japan, and Takeshi Miyamoto, 59, a former lower house member of the Japanese Communist Party.
Okinawa, home to the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, will see a head-on battle between pro- and anti-base relocation candidates.
The by-election in the Okinawa No. 3 district that includes a relocation site for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma was called to fill a vacancy left by Denny Tamaki, who now serves as Okinawa governor and wants to reduce base-hosting burdens on the island prefecture.
One of the two candidates is the LDP’s Aiko Shimajiri, 54, a former state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs who also gained support from Komeito. She has accepted the base transfer within the prefecture.
Another contender, 56-year-old freelance journalist Tomohiro Yara, aligns with Tamaki’s position, arguing that the central government should respect the outcome of a prefectural referendum in February in which more than 70 percent voted no to the Futenma relocation plan. Many Okinawa people are seeking to move the base outside the prefecture.
Multiple opposition parties are planning to back Yara, including the Liberal Party, the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.