Incumbent Heita Kawakatsu was re-elected for a second term as Shizuoka governor Sunday, overwhelming two rivals backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, respectively, in a contest viewed as a prelude to next month's House of Councillors election.
Kawakatsu, 64, supported by lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, garnered 1,080,609 votes, defeating the LDP-endorsed former Tama University professor Ichiro Hirose, 57, who won 345,617 votes, and the JCP-backed Yukihiro Shimazu, 56, who collected 61,980 votes, according to the final returns.
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.
But the Kyodo News exit polls 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 DPJ.
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 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.
After his re-election was assured Sunday, Kawakatsu told reporters that Shizuoka residents have "sovereignty" over the issue, reiterating his readiness to hold a referendum.
He also told Kyodo News that it is unlikely that the Hamaoka plant will be resumed during his second term, partly because it has not yet been decided how to dispose of spent fuel.
"We may also face unexpected situations" in the event of emergencies, he added.
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.