The Liberal Democratic Party won big in the first round of voting for the 18th unified local elections.
All 10 candidates for governor backed by LDP headquarters and local organisations won, and the party gained a majority of prefectural assembly seats for the first time in 24 years, winning 1,153 seats, not counting additional official candidates.
Votes were cast Sunday for 10 prefectural governors, 41 prefectural assemblies, five ordinance-designated city mayors and 17 ordinance-designated city assemblies. The results are seen as reflecting the public's trust in the economic and other policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet.
However, average voter turnout for the governor and prefectural assembly races were all-time lows for a unified local election.
Speaking at a liaison conference between the government and the ruling parties on Monday, Abe said: "The ruling parties received strong support. We will not slacken our preparations for the second round of voting [on April 26]. The LDP and Komeito will fight together to achieve victory."
Earlier in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: "Overall, the results show approval of the results of our Abenomics economic policies and high hopes for our regional vitalization [programs].
Tax revenue is increasing in all prefectures, so we would like to carry out the various reforms that have been proposed by the government and ruling parties."
The LDP added 34 assembly seats in 41 prefectures, even as the total number of seats fell by 46 to 2,284. This gives the party 50.48 per cent of all assembly seats.
Excepting only Osaka Prefecture, the LDP became the No. 1 party in 40 prefectural assemblies. It also gained a majority in three prefectures, bringing its total to 24 prefectures.
These victories will give the LDP positive momentum as next summer's House of Councillors election approaches, analysts said.
The Democratic Party of Japan won only 264 seats, reducing its share of the total by more than three percentage points to 11.56 per cent. The Japan Innovation Party won 28 seats.
Candidates for Osaka Ishin no Kai, which is led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a senior adviser to the JIP, won enough seats to make it the No. 1 party in the Osaka prefectural assembly and in the city assemblies of Osaka and Sakai.
All 169 prefectural assembly candi-dates fielded by Komeito were victorious, the first time this has happened for the party since 2007.
Only one Komeito candidate lost - in the Osaka city assembly race - spoiling the party's "perfect game."
The Japan Communist Party added 31 seats with 111 victories, giving it at least one seat in all 47 prefectures for the first time. The Social Democratic Party ended up with 31 seats.
In races for 1,022 seats in 17 ordinance-designated city assemblies, the latest results have the LDP winning 301 seats, Komeito 174 seats, the JCP 136 seats, the DPJ 126 seats, the JIP 34 seats and the SDP 3 seats. The DPJ fell to the No. 4 position for the first time in 16 years.
Female candidates were noticeably successful in Sunday's races, winning a record 207 seats in prefectural assemblies to comprise 9.06 per cent of the total, also a record high. Female candidates won 178 seats in ordinance-designated city assemblies.
However, voter interest remained tepid. Average turnout for the 41 prefectural assembly elections was an all-time low of 45.05 per cent, down 3.1 percentage points from last time.
Average turnout for the 10 guberna-torial races was 47.14 per cent, 5.49 percentage points lower than the previous record low in 2003, when elections for governor were held in 10 prefectures.
DPJ shocked by disastrous losses
The Democratic Party of Japan lost a large number of seats in elections for local assemblies held Sunday, showing it still has no means in sight of regaining political momentum.
The DPJ had regarded the unified local elections as an opportunity to solidify its foothold for revitalizing itself, eyeing the next House of Councillors election in the summer of 2016. It is likely, however, that the DPJ will be urged to reexamine its strategy.
In prefectural assembly elections in 41 prefectures, the total number of seats won by DPJ-backed candidates fell 82 from the previous elections to 264.
In elections for assemblies of 17 government ordinance-designated cities, the total number of the DPJ's seats fell from 147 in the previous elections to 126, not counting one seat in the Kumamoto city assembly. The winner of the Kumamoto seat will be decided Tuesday, because two candidates received the same number of votes.
In terms of the total number of seats in the local assemblies, the DPJ was deprived of its status as the largest opposition party by the Japanese Communist Party.
In a city assembly election in Osaka, all 11 candidates running on the DPJ ticket failed to gain seats.
"We started over from a negative position following the House of Repre-sentatives election in 2012, when we lost the reins of the government, so we've managed to create a trend of bottoming out," DPJ Secretary General Yukio Edano told reporters Monday in the Diet Building.
He insisted that the local election results can be a foothold for revitalizing the DPJ.