In 16 towns and villages around Japan, the elections for mayor, municipal assembly seats and prefectural assembly seats were all uncontested in the unified local elections in April, an Asahi Shimbun survey found.

This means that representatives for nearly 100,000 eligible voters were effectively chosen before any ballots were cast.

“Triple no-contests” refer to situations in which prefectural assembly elections, mayoral elections and municipal assembly elections are not held in a voting district because the candidates are assured victory due to a lack of challengers.

These situations have become more common in Japan.

The 16 towns and villages that experienced triple no-contests in April included seven municipalities in Hokkaido, Kawaba village in Gunma Prefecture and Yoshitomi town in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Most of the 16 municipalities have fewer than 10,000 eligible voters.

But some were larger, including Yoshida town in Shizuoka Prefecture with about 23,000 voters, Bihoro town in Hokkaido with around 16,000 voters, and Haga town in Tochigi Prefecture with about 13,000 voters.

The lack of local candidates has spread, resulting in more uncontested elections. This has weakened public trust and interest in local assemblies, creating a vicious cycle that is exacerbating the shortage of candidates.

In the 2015 unified local elections, triple no-contests occurred in five towns and villages in Hokkaido. In 2019, six towns and villages in Hokkaido and Gifu Prefecture each had three uncontested elections.

In the 2023 unified local elections, however, the number more than doubled from the previous elections four years ago.

“Double no-contests” for both mayoral elections and municipal assembly elections were seen in 16 cities, towns and villages nationwide, including Kamo city in Niigata Prefecture, in April.

Since 1955, when the internal affairs ministry started keeping records on local election results, the rate of uncontested elections has been low for Tokyo, government ordinance-designated cities and city assemblies.

So far, there have been no assembly members elected unchallenged in Tokyo’s 23 special wards.

The ratio of unchallenged assembly members in cities and government ordinance-designated cities has never exceeded 5 percent.

However, the rates for prefectural assembly elections and town and village assembly elections have been on an upward trend with occasional fluctuations.

Uncontested elections are increasing particularly in small municipalities and in prefectural assembly races that overlap with these municipalities.

In the latest elections, 56 percent of mayoral posts and 30.5 percent of assembly seats in town and villages, as well as 25 percent of prefectural assembly seats, were filled uncontested.

Overall, 40.2 percent, or 96 people, were elected without challenge in mayoral elections, and 13.9 percent, or 2,057 people, won seats in uncontested assembly elections.

Reiko Oyama, professor of political institutions theory at Komazawa University, said there is a limit to how much an assembly can handle the shortage of candidates.

Oyama said political parties need to make efforts to nurture candidates even for assemblies in cities and towns where there are many unaffiliated voters.

She said if each party sets a numerical target for female candidates, diversity in local assemblies will increase.

In particular, the efforts of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has been reluctant to field female candidates, are indispensable, Oyama said.

(This article was written by Masao Hayashi and Yuki Nikaido.)