Nuisance candidates, nobodies recruited to run in contests because they have names similar to those of a legitimate candidate, are a recurrent low-level feature of Japanese politics. They can exist because of the quaint custom of requiring voters to write down the names of candidates on ballot papers. Two candidates with similar names would result in a certain percentage of voters mismarking their ballots, with the voter putting down the name of one candidate while intending to vote for the other.
Most of the time nuisance candidates are simply that -- a nuisance -- stealing a few votes away from a candidate, not changing an election's outcome. Their presence can contribute to some eyebrow-raising final election results, though.
There is an argument that nuisance candidacies exist largely in the imagination -- as excuses why a candidate received the vote he or she did. The low number of similarity-of-name problems hobbling the candidacies of LDP candidates indicates, however, that there is actual funny business going on. Their primary goal has been seemingly to prevent Communist Party candidates from capturing the required percentage of the vote necessary for the party to receive a refund of the candidacy deposit (kyotakukin - Link).
Utsunomiya Kenji is likely to receive the 10% of the vote he needs to have his 3 million yen deposit returned to him after next Sunday's Tokyo gubernatorial by-election. That seemingly has not prevented someone -- or a group of someones -- from at least trying to steal votes away from a candidate supported by both the Communists and the Socialists.
Because there is another "Kenji" among the 16 other candidates for governor - a "Himeji Kenji" -- listed as being an individual involved in "building management."
A "Himeji Kenji" would be difficult difficult to mistake for an "Utsunomiya Kenji" most of the time -- even though it pits a "Name of a medium-sized city in Western Japan + Kenji" candidate against as "name of a medium-sized city of Eastern Japan + Kenji" candidate. The kanji would just be too different.
However, for reasons unexplained and yet completely transparent, "Himeji Kenji" chose to have his name listed on the ballot written entirely in syllabic hiragana -- no kanji at all -- and by the purest, most idiotic quirk of the draw, "Himeji Kenji" is in the #1 position of the list of candidates.
Who is in the #2 position, also all by the luck of the draw? Utsunomiya Kenji, written in kanji.
The confusion may cause only a few votes to slide to the nuisance candidate, whose name (ひめじけんじ) is so much easier to write than legitimate candidate's (宇都宮健児). In the case of a ballot marked just "Kenji" in hiragana the vote will be split, each candidate recorded as receiving 1/2 a vote.
Later - In comments, reader 井上エイド informs me that the listing order is not random, as indicated in the above underlined segments. Instead it reflects the order of the receipt of the candidate registration -- which makes the likelihood of "Himeji Kenji" being a stalker all the greater.
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