Japanese Voters Head To The Polls

Japanese voters head to the polls

Japanese voters are electing new governors, mayors and local lawmakers across the country on Sunday. For national parties, it's an opportunity to build momentum as they prepare for Upper House elections this summer.

Polling stations opened at 7 AM. 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.

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 a declining population.

Eleven 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 six 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.

Vote counting will begin after the polls close at 8 PM.