Coalition shuns nuclear issue in Tokyo election; Masuzoe still in front

February 03, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The ruling coalition is going all out to defeat former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa in the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election and stifle his flamboyant supporter’s calls for Japan to abolish nuclear energy.

The strategy appears to be working, according to an Asahi Shimbun poll.

“The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito are throwing all their weight behind him,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in Tokyo’s Ginza district Feb. 2 while canvassing support for Yoichi Masuzoe, 65.

New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi chimed in, standing side by side with Abe and Masuzoe on the campaign vehicle.

“The metropolitan government and the national government will join hands to make Tokyo No. 1 in the world,” he said.

Abe and Yamaguchi hit the streets for Masuzoe, a former welfare minister, for the first time since campaigning started Jan. 23 to ensure his victory over Hosokawa, 76, and other rivals.

Hosokawa is focusing on a zero-nuclear platform, and is backed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, another staunch opponent to the Abe administration’s pro-nuclear policy.

“We expect the election to prove that whether to phase out nuclear energy will not become a point of contention anymore,” a senior LDP official said.

A senior coalition official said the government feels that Masuzoe must prevail at any cost because the election outcome will be tantamount to a midterm report card for the Abe administration.

A victory by Hosokawa could deal a serious blow to the administration’s policy to restart idled reactors once they are declared safe by nuclear regulators.

Government and coalition officials have downplayed the nuclear energy debate, emphasizing it is not the only issue in the election.

Masuzoe, Abe and Yamaguchi all skirted the nuclear energy issue Feb. 2.

“Tokyo is facing a number of challenges,” Yamaguchi said. “A single-issue election will make Tokyo residents unhappy.”

Ministers of the Abe Cabinet, as well as LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, began campaigning for Masuzoe in late January after opinion polls indicated he was in the lead.

An Asahi Shimbun survey conducted Feb. 1-2 showed that Masuzoe has maintained the momentum shown in the previous survey Jan. 25-26.

Masuzoe, who is broadly backed by LDP and New Komeito supporters, has gained support from 40 percent of unaffiliated voters, according to the survey.

Hosokawa has secured backing from some supporters of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, but support among unaffiliated voters remains at 20 percent.

Government officials hope that a landslide victory by Masuzoe will silence the increasingly vociferous Koizumi, whom one senior official described as an “eyesore.”

“If Hosokawa loses, Koizumi will not be able to come out in front anymore,” a senior government official said.

On Feb. 2, 30 minutes after Abe left, Hosokawa and Koizumi addressed thousands of voters in Ginza.

Hosokawa compared the Tokyo election to an attempt to change the direction of Japanese civilization.

“We will have Japan develop without nuclear plants,” Koizumi said.

Although Hosokawa is drawing large crowds for his speeches, a senior official in his camp is worried about his chances in the election.

“People come to see and hear Koizumi,” the official said. “Support for zero nuclear plants has not necessarily become widespread.”

Media opinion polls have shown that the economy and welfare are greater concerns among Tokyo voters.

Hosokawa has recently spoken more about issues other than nuclear energy, such as measures to deal with Japan’s declining birthrate and the aging of society.

Candidate Kenji Utsunomiya, 67, former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, is also calling for a move away from nuclear energy.

A senior official of his camp said the anti-nuclear vote has been split between Utsunomiya and Hosokawa.

Utsunomiya garnered 960,000 votes in the 2012 Tokyo gubernatorial election. But the official said it appears that he will be unable to gain as many votes if support fails to widen.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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A large crowd hears a candidate's campaign speech for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in the Ginza shopping district in central Tokyo on Feb. 2. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

A large crowd hears a candidate's campaign speech for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in the Ginza shopping district in central Tokyo on Feb. 2. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

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  • A large crowd hears a candidate's campaign speech for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in the Ginza shopping district in central Tokyo on Feb. 2. (Yusaku Kanagawa)
  • The Ginza district in central Tokyo is packed on Feb. 2 with people trying to hear and take pictures of a candidate in the Tokyo gubernatorial election. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

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