TOKYO (AP) — Two charismatic former prime ministers joining forces on a rare anti-nuclear power ticket are pitted against a former health minister and a human rights activist in the election Sunday to lead Japan’s capital.
The outcome of the vote for Tokyo governor is likely to influence national policy as Japan goes through soul-searching on energy options after the March 2011 nuclear disaster — the worst since Chernobyl.
Morihiro Hosokawa, prime minister in the 1990s, who had retired to become a potter, is trying to make a comeback. He is backed by Junichiro Koizumi, who remains enormously popular. Both are pushing for an end to nuclear power.
Japanese media polls say the leading candidate is Yoichi Masuzoe, a former health minister and a moderate on nuclear power. Masuzoe is backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to restart Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors that were idled following the Fukushima disaster.
The public is 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.
“These days, I fear the world is headed in the wrong direction,” Hosokawa said during his campaign. “It is outrageous to restart nuclear power. I knew I must take a stand.”
Tokyo, the city of 13 million people not counting suburbs, is among the top shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates Fukushima Dai-ichi.
The other front-runners are Kenji Utsunomiya, a human rights lawyer, and Toshio Tamogami, a former military officer expected to draw support from nationalists pushing for a more assertive Japan.
Masuzoe has identified himself with Abe’s relatively successful economic policies, which have set off a Tokyo stock rally. Masuzoe has also repeatedly talked about the 2020 Olympics, which Tokyo is hosting, as a sign of a vibrant economy.
But he suffered a setback after a group of feminists accused him of discrimination and urged women not to vote for him. Masuzoe has said he champions issues such as building child care facilities and promoting jobs for women.
Tetsuro Kato, professor of political science at Waseda University in Tokyo, said that those opposed to nuclear power could not agree on one candidate between Hosokawa and Utsunomiya.
“This could have worked as a key vote on nuclear power, not just about city politics,” he said. “But those pushing for zero nukes failed in their strategy.”
The outgoing governor, Naoki Inose, led the Olympic bid with great fanfare but resigned late last year over a money scandal.