Rino Sashihara crowned amid tears and jeers at AKB election

by Melynie Yoneda

Staff Writer

Tears of joy filled Fukuoka on Saturday as Rino Sashihara won pop group AKB48’s 41st Single Election, but that didn’t stop jeers from flooding online chat forums.

Sashihara, who is a member of sister group HKT48, reclaimed the top spot at the senbatsu sōsenkyo (general election) after having previously won it in 2013. Last year’s winner, Mayu Watanabe, took third place and Yuki Kashiwagi took second. Fan-favorite Minami Takahashi, who will be graduating from the group at the end of the year, placed fourth. The results were announced live at Fukuoka’s Yafuoku! Dome.

Some fans, however, took to the Internet with claims that the amount of votes did not match up with the sales of AKB’s 40th single, “Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai” (“We Won’t Fight”). One ballot comes with each CD single of the election single.

The single, which was already considered controversial due to a perceived antiwar stance, did not see an increase in sales from last year’s election single, with total units sold estimated at 1,734,000 as reported by the Mainichi Shimbun. The discrepancy, according to those keeping track online, was an increase of 600,000 votes at this year’s election over last year’s, resulting in a total of 3,287,736 votes cast.

Another number that increased this year was the election’s TV ratings. This year’s live broadcast by Fuji TV saw an 18.8 percent share of viewers, the second-highest viewership the election has ever received. However, fans also complained that the interviews with individual members were often cut-off and that there were too many commercials.

The online criticism shows you can’t please everyone, but at least Sashihara was pleased.

“For all the people nationwide who had no faith in me, I was able to win first place again,” she proudly gushed during her victory speech. “This time it isn’t a miracle first place, but a first place earned through everything I’ve done being recognized.”

She then paraded around the stage in a queenly robe with a crystal trophy, waving to fans.

The general election is held annually by AKB48 and its sister groups in other cities across the country. Fans can purchase an AKB48 CD single to receive voting rights for the election, which decides the lineup of the members for the group’s next single.