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Japan's Governor Higashikokubaru Urges Change in Political System

A popular comedian turned Japanese politician says the country needs to shift power to regional governments and embrace a two-party political system. The governor of Japan's Miyazaki prefecture weighed in on the coming general election in an address to foreign correspondents.

Hideo Higashikokubaru knows how to command a room. After all, the governor of Japan's Miyazaki prefecture spent two decades as a popular comedian. These days he is using his star appeal to push a different cause: the decentralization of government.

In an address to foreign correspondents Friday, Higashikokubaru called on the central government to shift responsibility to regional governments. He said that would allow different prefectures to adopt policies that addressed their needs.

The governor has become one of the most outspoken critics of the country's centralized political system since taking office more than two years ago.

The system prevents regional governments from writing their own laws and does not give access to government funding without approval from the central government.

Higashikokubaru has gained so much popularity that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party asked him to run in the national lower house election on August 30. He agreed to do so, if the party listed him as a candidate for party president. It did not, and Higashikokubaru pulled his name from consideration.

He says people told him that was such a big mistake. Others said he will not be able to recover from this. He plans to turn a negative into a positive.

However, there are signs both major parties are listening to his message ahead of the election. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan says it hopes to pass legislation that would increase dialogue between central and local governments.

The LDP has promised to create regional governments similar to states in the United States. U.S. states can raise and spend taxes on their own and can pass many laws.

While his LDP party is on the verge of losing its hold on power after five decades, the governor says he does not believe that is a bad thing.

No party is expected to have an overwhelming majority in the Diet after the election. Some political analysts say that increases the possibility that Japan will shift to more of a two-party system, instead of having the LDP dominate politics. Higashikokubaru says change is necessary for a democratic society to thrive.