Aides and officials managing Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s re-election campaign are concerned that the U.S.-led war in Iraq may adversely affect the Tokyo gubernatorial election, while his rivals see it as a good chance to promote their peace policies.

An official at Ishihara’s campaign office, near the Defense Agency in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, said he is worried that voter turnout will be low due to a lack of interest in the April 13 poll because of the Iraq war.

“It depends on when the war ends, though,” the official said.

Ishihara’s aides and officials say they are concerned about the prospect of the government ordering Self-Defense Forces troops to guard U.S. bases in Japan for the first time.

Japanese police and the Japan Coast Guard are primarily responsible for protecting U.S. military bases in Japan.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the SDF Law was revised in October that year to include a provision allowing the SDF to protect “important facilities” in Japan, including U.S. bases.

The provision has yet to be invoked.

The law requires the prime minister to ask for the opinions of the governors of the prefectures hosting such bases in the event SDF troops are mobilized to protect them. That puts the governors’ attitudes regarding defense issues to the test.

One of Ishihara’s supporters expressed concern that public opinion may be turning in favor of one of Ishihara’s rivals, Keiko Higuchi, who describes herself as a proponent of peace, amid worldwide antiwar sentiment.

Remarks by Ishihara, 70, have often stirred controversy. Last year, for example, he told a U.S. weekly that if he were prime minister he would start a war with North Korea to bring Japanese abduction victims home.

Higuchi, 70, a social affairs commentator and author, announced her candidacy at a news conference Wednesday.

“The Tokyo gubernatorial race will be an opportunity for the people to show whether they are absolutely against a war or accept Japan’s typical moves” in support of the U.S. position on a war to disarm Iraq, she said.

She described Ishihara as “militant,” which she said the leader of Japan’s capital should not be.

Higuchi, known for her outspoken feminist remarks on social welfare issues, said she will pit herself against Ishihara on a platform promoting civic participation in administrative decision-making, social welfare policies and peace, rather than war.

Criticizing Ishihara for his hawkish and sexist comments, Higuchi described her entry in the race as a “contest between a militaristic uncle and a peace-addicted old biddy.”

Higuchi is running as an independent, but the Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party have expressed their support for her.

The Tokyo Seikatsusha Network, a local political group holding six seats in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, joined the DPJ and SDP drive to help Higuchi’s campaign.

Another opposition candidate, Yoshiharu Wakabayashi, 52, has printed flyers saying he opposes the Iraq war and calling on people to elect a governor who will protect Japan’s pacifist Constitution.

Wakabayashi is running on the Japanese Communist Party ticket.

The official campaign for the gubernatorial race begins Thursday.

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