Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday welcomed the election of a conservative governor of Tokyo in a result analysts said would help boost Abe’s economic reform agenda and reinforce his drive to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors.
Backed by Abe’s ruling coalition, Yoichi Masuzoe — a former television pundit and one-time Cabinet minister — was an easy winner on Sunday ahead of 15 rivals, including a former prime minister campaigning for an end to atomic power.
“It was good to see Mr Masuzoe elected as he won support of people in Tokyo,” Abe told reporters. “I want him to work hard on various subjects, such as low birth rate and longevity, as well as economic revitalization. I want him to make Tokyo a city shining at the center of the world.”
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters: “I hope he will move the metropolitan government forward by cooperating with the Abe administration.”
The poll for chief executive of one of the world’s biggest cities had been seen as a referendum on nuclear power in a country still scarred by the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster, but livelihood issues appeared to play a bigger role in the election, where voter turnout was put at 46 percent, the third-lowest, on a weekend that had seen the Japanese capital hit with its heaviest snow in nearly half a century.
Masuzoe’s win will provide a bounce for Abe and strengthen his hand on nuclear matters, observers said.
Like Abe, he has said that Japan needs to switch its reactors back on. All of them are idled at present amid public nervousness in the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi crisis.
Opinion polls show a significant number of Japanese oppose nuclear power, but the two main anti-nuclear candidates never managed to shift the debate sufficiently away from the bread-and-butter issues which were the focus of Masuzoe’s campaign, like the economy and welfare.
“While people are backing a gradual contraction of nuclear energy, they regard an immediate move to zero nuclear as not practical,” said Koji Nakakita, professor of Japanese politics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. “The election result will be a boost for the Abe administration for sure.”