Japanese People Casting In Local Election

Japanese people casting in local election

Japanese people are casting last minute votes in local elections across the country.

Thousands of seats are up for grabs, including for governors, mayors and local assembly members.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. this morning. For national parties, it's an opportunity to build momentum as they prepare for the Upper House election this summer.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are hoping for big wins so they can continue pursuing their political agenda.

While opposition parties see Sunday's vote as an opportunity to chip away at the ruling bloc.

There are some issues that cut across multiple regions... such as how to maintain services in rural areas struggling with aging and declining populations.

11 prefectural governor seats are up for grabs with two races generating most of the attention.

The northern prefecture of Hokkaido is the only race where the ruling and opposition blocs directly face off.

And in Osaka, the main issue dominating the campaign is what's known as the "Osaka metropolis plan", which would abolish Osaka City and reorganize it into special wards just like Tokyo.

Sunday's elections will also determine the mayors of 6 big cities, along with 17 municipal and 41 prefectural assemblies.

But two concerning trends have been emerging in recent years. Just over a quarter of the prefectural assembly seats have candidates running unopposed.

And there's been a noticeable drop in voter turnout to about 50 percent.

But officials say more than 6.5 million people voted in advance. That's about 30 percent higher than four years ago.