FUKUSHIMA - Former Fukushima Vice Gov. Masao Uchibori was elected governor in a landslide Sunday in the prefecture’s first gubernatorial campaign since the 2011 natural and nuclear disasters.
Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami as well as nuclear policy were the main issues in the election involving around 1.6 million voters, but there was a lack of in-depth discussion as both ruling and opposition parties threw their support behind the 50-year-old Uchibori.
Asked Monday morning about priorities once he takes office, Uchibori said: “I want to rebuild the worst-hit parts of the evacuation zone, and then rebuild all of Fukushima (Prefecture). I’m reminding myself anew of the heavy responsibility. We must do whatever it takes to reconstruct Fukushima.”
Uchibori has declined to comment on whether he believes reactors around the rest of the country should be reactivated. Therefore the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to face no challenge from him as it continues procedures to restart idled nuclear plants.
Furthermore, the ruling coalition of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito managed to stave off defeat — which it suffered in the Shiga gubernatorial race in July.
The focus now shifts to the governor race next month in Okinawa, where issues related to U.S. military bases are likely to dominate.
Uchibori got 490,384 votes, while runner-up Yoshihiro Kumasaka received 129,455.
Kumasaka, 62, a former mayor of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, had the backing of the Japanese Communist Party and Shinto Kaikaku (New Renaissance Party).
Fewer than 30,000 votes went to four other candidates.
Voter turnout was 45.85 percent, up 3.43 point from the previous election but the second lowest on record.
Uchibori ran nominally as an independent but was supported by the local chapters of the LDP and Komeito as well as the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party.
“I will put my heart and soul into the reconstruction of Fukushima,” said Uchibori, who will succeed outgoing Gov. Yuhei Sato. “I will first put my efforts into reconstructing evacuated areas and revitalizing the prefecture.”
Sato, who served two four-year terms, said he wants his successor to be “someone who can carry out my will and continue reconstruction work, and who knows the prefecture very well.”
During the campaign, Uchibori pledged to “make utmost efforts to bring recovery to Fukushima as early as possible.” He underscored his readiness to serve as governor after having supported Sato as vice governor from 2006.
Uchibori resigned from the vice governorship last month to run in the election.
Although the number of candidates was a record high for the prefecture, all of them agreed that reactors in the prefecture should be decommissioned and pledged to reconstruct the region devastated by the March 2011 disasters.
While the other contenders opposed reactivating nuclear reactors in other parts of Japan, Uchibori refrained from expressing a view on the matter, apparently in deference to the central government.
The prefecture has already demanded that the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. decommission the four reactors at the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant in addition to the six at crippled Fukushima No. 1.
The other contenders were Katsutaka Idogawa, a 68-year-old former mayor of the town of Futaba, which hosts the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Yoshitaka Ikarashi, a 36-year-old pastor, Akiko Iseki, 59, a convenience store manager, and Yoshinao Kaneko, 58, president of a construction company.