Race for Tokyo governor begins

January 24, 2014 - 6:33:41 am

TOKYO:  The race to become the next governor of Tokyo kicked off yesterday in an election widely seen as a referendum on Japan’s energy policy, almost three years after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Observers say the election on Feb 9 will be a two-horse race between the anti-nuclear former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and Yoichi Masuzoe, an academic and former health minister, who was a member of a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government.

“This gubernatorial election is... a battle between those who believe Japan can prosper without nuclear plants and those who believe Japan can’t prosper without them,” Hosokawa told a press conference as he announced his candidacy.

Japanese voters have become wary of nuclear power since the tsunami-sparked disaster at Fukushima began in March 2011, but the issue failed to materialise in the national polls that swept Abe to power, with his opponents’ apparent haplessness neutralising their anti-nuclear stance.

The governor of Tokyo has no actual power to change national energy policy, but the sheer size of the city, with 13 million inhabitants and a pivotal place in the economic, political and cultural life of Japan, means its verdict will be tough to ignore.

Hosokawa, whose low-profile 1993-4 premiership is little more than a footnote to modern political history, has the backing of wildly popular one-time Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

The abundantly-coiffured Koizumi has shunned the limelight since his five-year premiership ended in 2006, but he emerged as an anti-nuclear convert midway through 2013 and began agitating for the permanent shuttering of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

That put him at odds with current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his one-time protégé who has vowed to get the plants back on line when they have passed new, more stringent safety tests.