National / Politics

Ex-ministry bureaucrat Oigawa on course to oust six-term governor in Ibaraki Prefecture

Kyodo

Former trade ministry bureaucrat Kazuhiko Oigawa, backed by the ruling coalition, was almost certain to win Sunday’s Ibaraki Prefecture gubernatorial election. Projections late in the day showed that Oigawa was on course to beat six-term incumbent Masaru Hashimoto, according to projections.

The projected win by the 53-year-old newcomer may give a boost to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party as they seek to recover from scandals which at one point caused public support for the government to plummet. The election was the first major local poll since Abe revamped the Cabinet and the LDP leadership on Aug. 3.

The LDP put a great deal of effort into winning the election in the prefecture, seeing it as a prelude to three Lower House by-elections scheduled for October. In July, the LDP faced a humiliating setback in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government elections and a defeat in the Sendai mayoral election.

After a neck-and-neck race, Oigawa, a former Microsoft Japan Co. executive who was also backed by the LDP’s junior coalition ally Komeito, was likely to defeat 71-year-old Hashimoto, who was supported by the local chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) and others.

During campaigning, Oigawa vowed to implement a limit on the number of terms a governor can serve. The proposal comes as a direct response to Hashimoto, who, if he had won the election, would have become the governor who has been re-elected the most times.

Hashimoto’s campaign platform included a promise not to permit the restart of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant, which has been offline since the Fukushima No. 1 power plant meltdowns in 2011.

That is the only commercial nuclear power station in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The fate of the single-reactor plant, sitting on the same Pacific coast as the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, was one of the election’s main issues. The aging plant faces decommissioning if it cannot clear safety screening by regulators by November 2018, when it reaches 40 years since it first began operating.