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Masuzoe sets sights on 2020 Olympics

Rising welfare costs also in focus after anti-nuclear rivals' quest fails at polls, Tokyo's next leader says

Kyodo, Staff Report

Former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe said Monday he would lead the capital in preparing for the 2020 Olympics and address rising welfare costs as Tokyo’s new governor.

“I feel a very grave sense of responsibility. I’ll brace myself and do my best,” Masuzoe, 65, told reporters after winning Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election.

Masuzoe’s two main rivals, lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, 67, and former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, 76, who were both against nuclear energy, were soundly defeated.

“I went out to campaign all across Tokyo and spoke to more voters than any other candidate,” Masuzoe told his supporters in declaring victory. “I kept explaining about my policy plans.”

Masuzoe received over 2.11 million votes, winning him the top job in the capital, which has a population of more than 13 million.

His total just eclipsed the combined tally of 1,938,657 collected by Utsunomiya, former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations who was a distant second with 982,594 votes, and Hosokawa, who came in third with 956,063 votes.

Voter turnout was a lowly 46.15 percent, down sharply from 62.60 percent in the December 2012 election and the third-lowest in Tokyo’s history, according to the Tokyo metropolitan election management committee.

The heaviest snow in decades blanketed Tokyo and many other parts of Japan on Saturday, discouraging people from going to the polls the next day.

A low turnout tends to favor a candidate backed by a wide range of groups. Masuzoe received support not only from the ruling bloc — the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito — but also from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).

On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP’s president, said he wants to fully cooperate with the new governor.

“I want him to make Tokyo a city that shines at the center of the world,” Abe said.

The governor-elect, succeeding Naoki Inose, who resigned in December over a money scandal, is expected to start off by assessing the capital’s fiscal 2014 budget.

The draft budget for the year starting April 1 will be submitted to the metropolitan assembly later this month after Masuzoe, who was minister of health, labor and welfare between 2007 and 2009, checks the planned spending and estimated revenues.

Masuzoe, a former Upper House member, said he wants to reflect his campaign pledges to some extent in the new budget. “All I have to do is achieve results. I want to use my experience as a welfare minister.”

In campaigning, Masuzoe pledged to make Tokyo the world’s top metropolis in fields such as disaster prevention, social welfare, business and education.

He views on energy policy fell into line with those of Abe’s ruling coalition. The government aims to restart nuclear reactors nationwide, while trying to reduce the nation’s dependence on atomic energy and develop alternative and sustainable energy sources.

Having beaten Hosokawa and Utsunomiya, who seek to rid Japan of nuclear power as soon as possible in light of the Fukushima disaster, Masuzoe said Monday he believes “voters appreciated” his stance on nuclear, in which he advocated a gradual phaseout.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga hailed Masuzoe’s landslide victory, saying he won because “people in Tokyo calmly assessed each candidate’s policies, ability and sense of responsibility.”

“We achieved the best outcome,” Suga told reporters.

Masuzoe has said he will make the 2020 Tokyo Games the best in Olympic history. “I would like to show people from all over the world how attractive Tokyo is,” he said.

Among his other campaign pledges are reducing to zero in a four-year term the number of children on waiting lists for admission to day-care facilities, and raising the ratio of renewable energy in Tokyo’s total energy consumption to 20 percent from the current 6 percent.

Masuzoe’s victory is likely to give Abe major leverage in his plan to reactivate some of the 48 reactors that have been idled since or shortly after the Fukushima disaster started in March 2011.

As Abe’s Cabinet formed plans to reactivate some of the reactors in early summer, Hosokawa and his ally, popular ex-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, took to the campaign trail to stir a national debate on nuclear energy in hopes of blocking that plan via the election.

But Hosokawa, once considered Masuzoe’s strongest rival, failed to win over Tokyo’s sizable swing voter contingent.

Earlier media polls have suggested Tokyo voters were more interested in economic, employment and welfare issues than Hosokawa’s call to immediately abolish nuclear power.

“Ending the use of nuclear energy was not treated as seriously as it should be,” Hosokawa said. “There was some hesitation until I decided to run, so my preparation time was limited.”

Hosokawa put extra emphasis on his anti-nuclear drive, while Utsunomiya treated nuclear energy and other issues more equally.