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Ex-lawmaker beats ruling bloc-backed rival in Saitama governor race

Motohiro Ono (Kyodo)

SAITAMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Former upper house lawmaker Motohiro Ono supported by four opposition parties defeated a candidate fielded by the ruling bloc in Sunday's Saitama gubernatorial election.

The election, also fought by three other newcomers, was a de facto duel between Ono, a 55-year-old former parliamentary vice defense minister, and former professional baseball player Kenta Aoshima, 61.

The gubernatorial race followed last month's House of Councillors election which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, the Komeito party, won.

The result of the neck-and-neck race in the prefecture, north of Tokyo, will deal a blow to the Abe administration as it dispatched Cabinet members, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, for stump speeches.

Voter turnout was 32.31 percent, up from 26.63 percent in the previous election in 2015.

Ono, who left the Democratic Party for the People to run as an independent candidate in the election, has aligned himself with incumbent Kiyoshi Ueda and said he will inherit and develop the departing leader's policies.

Ueda has decided to step down at the end of his fourth four-year term.

Ono was a unified candidate backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party, the Democratic Party for the People, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

During campaigning, Aoshima sought to tap into his strong name recognition as a sportscaster, pledging to promote sports as the prefecture is one of the venues for the Rugby World Cup staring next month, while also committing to improving health services.

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