Yoichi Masuzoe, a former health minister backed by Japan’s ruling party, has been elected as the new governor of Tokyo, after defeating two candidates who had promised to end nuclear power nearly three years after the Fukushima disaster.
Masuzoe’s victory on Sunday was declared in exit polls on public broadcaster NHK within minutes after voting closed.
“I want to make Tokyo the number one city of the world, in areas including disaster prevention, welfare and the economy,” Masuzoe told reporters as the scale of his victory became apparent.
The poll for chief executive of one of the world’s biggest cities had been seen as a referendum on atomic power in a country still scarred by the Fukushima disaster.
Masuzoe had not made energy policy a prime focus, although he said Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear power in the medium to long term. After his victory was announced, he reiterated that stance, adding he wanted to raise the share of renewable energy sources in Tokyo’s electricity supply.
Public trust in nuclear energy in Japan was battered by the March 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc’s Fukushima nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami. It was the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
The anti-nuclear camp, however, was divided between two candidates – former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and human-rights lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya.
Masuzoe garnered about 30 percent of the vote, according to NHK exit polls. Hosokawa and Utsunomiya got about 20 percent each, indicating that if the anti-nuclear vote had been united, a win by either might have been possible.
Official vote tallies were not expected until Monday. Masuzoe was backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to restart Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors that were idled following the Fukushima disaster.
Like Abe, he has said that Japan needs to switch its nuclear reactors back on.
Hosokawa was backed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who pushed for zero nuclear power.
The public has been worried about safety after the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Throngs of protesters have periodically gathered outside government buildings and marched in parks, demanding an end to nuclear power.
Masuzoe stressed that Tokyo needed electricity.
“The Fukushima disaster has left me without words, but reducing our dependence on nuclear power needs to be done gradually,” he said after his victory.
Masuzoe appealed to voters by identifying himself with Abe’s relatively successful economic policies, which have set off a Japanese stock rally, and by promising a successful 2020 Tokyo Olympics in balloting that coincided with the Sochi games.
The outgoing governor, Naoki Inose, led Tokyo’s Olympic bid with great fanfare, but resigned late last year over a money scandal.