Elections in disaster-hit areas

Local elections were held Nov. 13 in Miyagi Prefecture and will be held Nov. 20 in Fukushima Prefecture. In Iwate Prefecture, local elections, including the gubernatorial and prefectural assembly elections, were held in September.

These elections — in areas hit by the March 11 earthquake/ tsunami or by the Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents — had been postponed from April by a special law.

In the town assembly election in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, the site of a nuclear power plant, three anti-nuclear power candidates won seats — two incumbent candidates from the Japan Communist Party and a newcomer independent candidate. In the prefectural assembly election, for the first time a JCP candidate was elected from Onagawa and from Ishinomaki, the site of a planned nuclear power plant.

Since the March 11 disasters, voter-party relations appear to have changed to some extent. In Miyagi Prefecture, some fishing cooperatives have dropped their traditional support for the Liberal Democratic Party because it supports the idea of letting business firms operate fisheries. They instead threw their support to the JCP.

A big problem in the Tohoku elections was locating voters who had evacuated because of the disasters. After the disasters, some municipal offices had to be moved. Some municipalities overcame problems, including difficulties in setting up voting stations, with the help of other municipalities.

Voters who moved to new places for evacuation often had difficulty in learning about the candidates. Some candidates themselves lost relatives in the disasters. They stressed the importance of building communities resilient to disasters.

The postdisaster conditions have made it difficult to expect a high voter turnout. In the Iwate gubernatorial election held Sept. 11, voter turnout was 59.9 percent, 8.6 percentage points lower than in the 2007 election. In the Miyagi prefectural assembly election, the rate was 41.69 percent, significantly lower than the previous record low of 50.45 percent in 2007.

Conditions are especially difficult in Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear crisis is going on. It is hoped that local government heads and assembly members newly elected in Tohoku will work together with voters to help resolve problems.