Voting under way to pick governors, mayors across Japan

Voters cast their ballots on Sunday to pick governors, mayors and assembly members in simultaneously held local elections across Japan.
The results of the races, due out later in the day, could serve as a measure of the popularity of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government and a strong showing by his ruling coalition could regenerate momentum going into the House of Councillors election in the summer.
Sunday's elections come only days after a deputy land minister resigned to take responsibility for remarks that special treatment was made over a road project to please Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, adding to a series of gaffes and scandals involving ruling lawmakers since Abe took office in 2012.
Incumbents and new faces are vying in 11 governor races and six major mayoral polls as well as assembly elections in 41 out of Japan's 47 prefectures and in 17 big cities.
Revitalizing regional economies and stemming population declines are among the major issues in the elections as rural areas are seen as benefiting less from the Abenomics policy mix undertaken by the prime minister.
The central government has said Japan's economy is expanding moderately. But recent data have indicated that the country has already entered a recessionary phase rather than marking its longest growth streak since the end of World War II, as previously believed.
Among the 11 gubernatorial races, the poll in Hokkaido, northern Japan, is the only one in which a candidate backed by the ruling coalition of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito face off with a unified candidate for opposition parties.
Osaka abruptly joined the prefectures holding gubernatorial elections when Gov Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura resigned last month as they look to swap jobs, in a tactic aimed at giving momentum to their pet project to reshape the western Japan city into a metropolitan government similar to Tokyo's.
In Fukui, Shimane, Tokushima and Fukuoka, the LDP failed to field single candidates, revealing divisions within its local chapters.
Gubernatorial races were also held in Kanagawa, Nara, Tottori, Oita and Mie.
Japan will have another round of simultaneous local elections on April 21 to pick mayors and assembly members in Tokyo wards, smaller cities, towns and villages that will coincide with two House of Representatives' by-elections in Osaka and Okinawa prefectures.

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