Frustrated voters dump incumbent mayor in Fukushima election

November 18, 2013


FUKUSHIMA--Fukushima Mayor Takanori Seto became the latest incumbent ousted from office in the prefecture, where residents and evacuees have expressed increased frustration over delays in rebuilding from the nuclear disaster.

Independent newcomer Kaoru Kobayashi, 54, easily won the Fukushima mayoral election on Nov. 17, dashing the hopes of Seto, 66, who was seeking his fourth term.

The incumbent mayors of Koriyama, Iwaki and the town of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture also lost in their re-election bids this year.

Kobayashi, a former Environment Ministry official, received 72,441 votes, more than double the 32,851 for Seto. Another first-time candidate, Yutaka Yamada, 58, president of the Fukushima-Soma district of the Japanese Communist Party, received 7,620 votes.

The voter turnout rate rose to 49.1 percent from the previous 38.2 percent in 2009.

One of the main issues of the election was the prefectural capital’s policy concerning decontamination work and reconstruction plans related to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Kobayashi emphasized he would renovate municipal politics, including an acceleration of decontamination work and an early installation of temporary storage facilities for contaminated soil and debris.

Seto, who was backed by the municipal chapters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Social Democratic Party, stressed his achievements as mayor for over 10 years.

Fukushima voters showed they were not impressed with Seto’s latest efforts.

Eriko Nakagawa, a 44-year-old homemaker, voted for Kobayashi after noticing delays in the decontamination work in the city.

“I could not see what the mayor was doing at all,” said Nakagawa, who voted for Seto in the last mayoral election.

A 41-year-old woman who has been living as an evacuee in Yamagata voted for Kobayashi by absentee ballot on Nov. 13, saying she cannot support the incumbent.

An estimated 6,000 people who voluntarily evacuated from the city still live away from their homes.

About 115,000 houses in Fukushima city are subject to decontamination work to clear radioactive substances from the nuclear disaster that was triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Work has been completed on only 18 percent of them.

Decontamination work has not even started on some school routes.

According to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the air dose radiation in Fukushima on Nov. 14 was 0.29 microsievert per hour, 4.5 times greater than that in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

An Asahi Shimbun exit poll conducted in 30 polling stations on Nov. 17 showed that 60 percent of voters disapproved of Seto’s performance in the 32 months after the nuclear disaster, while 37 percent supported him.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently clarified that the government will take measures to tackle the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and will also bear part of the costs for future decontamination and related work.

However, the loss of the LDP-backed incumbent in the prefectural capital could affect the Abe administration’s countermeasures and reconstruction plans.

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Kaoru Kobayashi celebrates his win in the Fukushima mayoral election with his wife on Nov. 17. (Soichiro Yamamoto)

Kaoru Kobayashi celebrates his win in the Fukushima mayoral election with his wife on Nov. 17. (Soichiro Yamamoto)

  • Kaoru Kobayashi celebrates his win in the Fukushima mayoral election with his wife on Nov. 17. (Soichiro Yamamoto)

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