• Kyodo


Residents of Toyosato, Shiga Prefecture, have voted to oust their mayor in a referendum over his aborted plan to tear down a historic school building, but he plans to run again.

Ballots were cast by 82.31 percent of the 5,603 eligible voters in Sunday’s poll, with 2,450 voting to recall Wasaburo Ono and 2,070 voting to keep him in office.

An election to fill the post will be held April 27 as part of nationwide unified local elections, the local election board said Monday. In the meantime, Shigeki Nakamura, head of the town’s general affairs division, will act as mayor.

Ono, 47, said Sunday night he will run in the election in a comeback attempt, while the residents’ group that led the referendum pledged to field its candidate in 10 days.

The referendum was held in response to a call from the group seeking to preserve the 66-year-old art deco building, designed by American architect William Merrell Vories, and keep it in use as part of Toyosato Elementary School.

“I want my policies to be judged by the town residents,” Ono said in announcing he will run again, adding that he will quit politics if he loses.

Hiroshi Ito, the leader of the residents’ group, said that a candidate will be selected from among them, and that he or she will have to pledge to restore and preserve the school.

“I was confident that we would win,” Ito told a gathering after the results of the referendum came Sunday night. “I want to say thank you to the residents.”

The protest began after Ono attempted in December to demolish the 3,500-sq.-meter building housing the school and build a new one, saying the historic structure would not be able to withstand a major earthquake.

He later had a demolition team start work to raze the building, even though a court had issued an injunction against the move, and partially damaged the structure in the process.

Later, Ono reversed his position and declared his intention to preserve the building. But he also said he would go ahead with building a new structure as well.

According to exit polls by Kyodo News, male voters were basically split over retaining Ono. However, some 60 percent of female voters said he had to go.

By age group, votes against Ono exceeded those supporting him in every grouping except for those in their 30s.

On Monday, two members of the town assembly filed a request for the town to freeze spending on construction of the new school building, saying that an issue of such gravity should be decided by the winner of the April race. Work on the new building is currently scheduled to commence April 1.

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