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Tokyo voters split by priority shift to welfare

Hot-button nuclear issue cooled by more than blizzard

Staff Writers

Media outlets at home and abroad are playing up the Tokyo gubernatorial election as an effective public referendum on whether Japan should ditch its atomic plants, focusing on the battle between anti-nuclear candidate Morihiro Hosokawa and ex-health minister Yoichi Masuzoe, who is backed by pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party.

But some 40 voters interviewed by The Japan Times at polling stations Sunday said they took multiple factors into account when casting their ballots. For them, the issues ranged from welfare, nuclear power and disaster preparedness to the candidates’ political experience and credibility.

Indeed, a Nikkei Shimbun poll published Feb. 2 said that health care and welfare were the top issues, at 25 percent, followed by the economy and jobs at 22 percent. Energy and the environment came in third at 9 percent.

A 30-year-old housewife in Minato Ward favored political experience. She said she voted for Masuzoe, a former member of the Upper House who served multiple stints as welfare minister.

“I think he will lead the politics of Tokyo in the right direction,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “I think Masuzoe has a balanced view on different subjects and he has long experience as a politician.”

Pensioner Keiji Kobayashi, 65, meanwhile said he wants the new governor to improve the welfare situation in the capital.

Kobayashi, who came to a polling station in Kodaira, western Tokyo, said he couldn’t make up his mind until the last minute and finally cast his ballot for lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya.

“He was the one who has the most decent policies. I especially support Utsunomiya’s policies on welfare,” he said, adding that beefing up the capital’s welfare system, such as medical insurance for seniors, is important considering the aging population.

According to the metropolitan government, about 22 percent of the capital’s population was 65 or over as of September 2013, a trend predicted to continue for years.

The rapid aging of Tokyo is believed to be one of the main reasons behind the keen interest in medical and welfare issues this election.

Pre-election media polls had suggested Masuzoe was leading by a large margin, despite vocal campaigns by anti-nuclear voters and activists supporting Hosokawa, who was reportedly in second.

For a Shibuya Ward housewife in her late 60s, the abolition of nuclear power “was the only factor” in deciding who to vote for because of the impact of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The woman, who declined to be named, said she voted for Hosokawa, whose main goal is to push for an immediate end to nuclear power in Japan.

Although Tokyo itself does not have an atomic plant, it relied on nuclear power before the Fukushima disaster and its governor and assembly can have a strong influence on national politics. The metropolitan government is also a large shareholder in troubled Tokyo Electric Power Co.

While Masuzoe also has pledged to reduce the use of nuclear power gradually, she said she does not trust him because it does not make sense for him to be supported by the ruling LDP.

For some, crisis management is high on the agenda. A 30-year-old distribution company employee in Kodaira said he voted for Toshio Tamogami, explaining that the former top Air Self-Defense Force officer known for his nationalistic views was the only candidate that he trusts to make Tokyo a better place.

“Compared to other candidates, he has the most clear policies, such as his pro-nuclear stance,” said the man, who declined to give his name.

“Realistically, there is no other energy that can replace nuclear power. I believe we need that to sustain this country’s economy.”

Ryu Aoyama, 22, a college student in Shinjuku Ward, also believes Tamogami, who is considered popular with young Internet users, has the right crisis-management skills.

“I voted for Tamogami. I feel he is the only one who can undertake crisis management once Tokyo is hit by a big earthquake. I also support his stance that visiting Yasukuni Shrine is a good thing. I feel it’s natural to pay respect to the war dead.”

A Minato Ward woman in her late 60s who identified herself as Yoko said clean politics is hard to come by in today’s Japan, and that is why she voted for Utsunomiya.

“I’ve checked the views of all the major candidates, and decided my vote must go to Utsunomiya because I like the way he has stuck to his agenda for many years,” she said, adding that she feels Utsunomiya is “clean and fair” because of his work as an attorney.