TOKYO, Aug.22 (Reuters) – An ally of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was set to lose a race for mayor in Yokohama on Sunday, state broadcaster NHK reported, citing exit polls in a blow to the Prime Minister. unpopular minister facing general elections this year.
Exit polls indicated a clear victory for opposition-backed public health professor Takeharu Yamanaka, NHK said. The field of eight candidates included politician Hachiro Okonogi, who ran with Suga’s backing, as well as incumbent mayor Fumiko Hayashi. Polling stations closed at 8:00 p.m. local time (11:00 GMT).
The predicted loss for Okonogi in the prime minister’s territory just south of Tokyo is likely to increase the pressure on Suga, who was already under fire from the increase in COVID-19 cases and the perception he has been awkward in managing the pandemic.
Suga’s approval rating fell below 30% in August, stoking concerns from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party about his ability to lead the party to a general election due by November 28.
Suga, who took office last September after his predecessor Shinzo Abe stopped citing poor health, is struggling to contain the pandemic, with daily national infections reaching a record 25,000 last week.
Although Yokohama is in Suga constituency in parliament, an investigation by a local newspaper in mid-August found that Okonogi was tracking Yamanaka, reflecting concerns about the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Kanagawa, the prefecture where Yokohama is located, has been in a state of emergency since August 2, but infections have continued to rise. The prefecture on Friday recorded a record 2,878 cases, according to the public broadcaster NHK.
Suga’s term as president of the LDP ends in September. He can either be re-elected without challenge or be the subject of a party vote if other candidates come forward to challenge him for the post.
(Corrects the Sunday story to clarify that Okonogi was not a starter)
Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Linda Sieg and William Mallard
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