the Japanese head  to elect their local  governors, mayors and lawmakers.

People across Japan are heading to the polls on Sunday to elect governors, mayors and local lawmakers. For national parties, it's an opportunity to fortify their base in the lead up to Upper House elections this summer.

Polling stations began opening at 7 a.m. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are hoping for big wins to ensure their political agenda maintains momentum. But opposition parties see Sunday's vote as an opportunity to chip away at the ruling bloc.

Some issues cut across multiple regions... such as how to maintain services in rural areas struggling with a declining population.

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 trends have been emerging in recent years. There's been a noticeable drop in voter turnout to about 50 percent. And just over a quarter of the prefectural assembly seats have candidates running unopposed.

Ballot counting will begin after the polls close at 8 p.m.

Source| NHK

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