Incumbent Heita Kawakatsu was re-elected for a second term as Shizuoka governor Sunday, defeating a candidate backed by the Liberal Democratic Party in a contest viewed as a prelude to next month's House of Councillors election, according to exit polls and early returns.
But the Kyodo News exit polls also showed that 37.4 percent of voters plan to cast their ballots for the ruling LDP in the proportional representation section of the upper house election, compared with 12.6 percent who said they will vote for the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
Kawakatsu, 64, supported by DPJ lawmakers, defeated former Tama University professor Ichiro Hirose, 57, who was backed by the LDP, and Yukihiro Shimazu, 56, a senior official of the Japanese Communist Party's local chapter.
While the governor secured votes from 94.8 percent of the local DPJ support base, Hirose garnered only 42.4 percent of the LDP base, according to the exit polls. It was the third local election loss for the LDP, following the defeat of candidates backed by the party in mayoral races in Nagoya in April and in the city of Saitama in May.
"It all comes down to poor preparation and poor name recognition. Even though the support rates for the Cabinet and the LDP are high, it's natural that poor preparations will lead to this kind of result. It will be a big lesson for us," LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said when contacted by Kyodo News.
A key issue in the gubernatorial race was the fate of Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka nuclear power plant, suspended since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, with Kawakatsu calling for a referendum to be held on resuming the plant's operation.
Sunday's election result put Kawakatsu in a position to decide whether to bring the plant back online after ongoing work to reinforce safety measures that is scheduled to end in March 2015.
He reiterated his readiness to hold a referendum after his re-election was assured.
In the exit polls conducted at 30 voting stations throughout the prefecture, 49.0 percent of the 1,577 respondents expressed opposition to restarting the plant, while 50.9 percent expressed support for a referendum.
Kawakatsu's victory in the previous 2009 election with support from the DPJ proved to be a bellwether for the following general election that brought the DPJ to power for the first time.