NIHONMATSU/IWAKI, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the two biggest election-defining issues of Sunday’s Lower House poll are how to spend the additional revenue from the planned consumption tax hike in 2019 and how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat. Leaders from other parties see either proposing or preventing revisions to the Constitution as their main priority.
But for residents of Fukushima Prefecture — many of whom are still recovering from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami that triggered a nuclear disaster — the focus is on when their lives will return to some semblance of normalcy.
That sentiment is strongest in the Fukushima No. 5 electoral district, site of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which forced many to evacuate from the no-go zone more than six years ago.
Candidates in the constituency have focused their campaigns on reconstruction and decontamination of the area.
However, campaign strategies are split between the two front-runners — reconstruction minister Masayoshi Yoshino, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and Izumi Yoshida, a former vice reconstruction minister who had recently left the Democratic Party to join Kibo no To (Party of Hope), headed by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike.
Yoshino, 69, is taking time to woo voters living in temporary housing and less-populated areas, while Yoshida is campaigning in the more densely populated city of Iwaki.
In pouring rain on Monday, Yoshino’s campaign car appeared at a temporary housing complex in the city of Nihonmatsu, where about 10 residents came out to listen. Although the city is located outside Yoshino’s electoral district, many evacuees from the town of Namie, which is in the district, now reside there.
Evacuation orders for parts of Namie were lifted in March, but only 381 people lived in the town as of the end of last month, while the vast majority of former residents have not returned, according to a town official.
“I’m eager to reconstruct Fukushima. I need your help in order for me to take part in national politics,” Yoshino said in his five-minute speech.
Residents were surprised to see him making the effort to travel out there.
“I don’t think other candidates have come here. I sense that (Yoshino) cares about us,” Jinichiro Tajiri, 76, who lives in nearby reconstruction housing, said after the speech.
Tajiri, who used to live in Namie, has occasionally visited his hometown since March.
“Reconstruction is what I expect the most,” he said.
Tajiri’s wife, Yoshiko, also 76, added, “I want better medical care. A majority of the people here are elderly.”
Yoshino has so far used three days of campaigning to visit evacuees dispersed throughout the prefecture, said Koichi Ito, Yoshino’s election aide.
“While Futaba has 55,000 voters, Iwaki has 370,000. But Yoshino, as a reconstruction minister, has a strong will to continue supporting disaster victims,” Ito said.
Meanwhile, Kibo no To’s Yoshida, 68, who lags behind Yoshino in the media polls, is focusing more on Iwaki.
“Many have already left temporary housing. … Some have built homes in Iwaki. We understand that we must visit (the temporary housing communities), but there aren’t many people living there now,” said Yoshida’s secretary, Toshifumi Sato. “It’s a short battle, so we need to prioritize efficiency.”
On Tuesday, about 300 voters gathered to hear Yoshida’s campaign speech in Ena, the coastal area of Iwaki.
“Revitalization comes from the citizens. We must share our knowledge,” Yoshida said during his speech.
Listening to the speech, Katsuya Kanenari, who heads Ena’s residential group, praised him for his locally focused policies.
“The area used to have a thriving fishing industry, but this was destroyed and ships no longer come. What remains now is the beautiful scenery,” Kanenari said.
“We want public facilities to be built in the area. We want people to visit. Otherwise, the area will remain undeveloped,” he said.
Two other candidates, backed by smaller parties, are also running for the election; Tomo Kumagai, 37, from the Japanese Communist Party and Yoko Endo, 67, backed by the Social Democratic Party.
In line with the parties’ policies, Kumagai and Endo are vowing to eliminate nuclear power plants from Fukushima, unlike Yoshino and Yoshida, who spoke less about that topic.
During a live online debate held Oct. 13 by the Junior Chamber International Japan, Kumagai stressed the need for a government that will rid the prefecture of nuclear power plants.
Endo, on the other hand, said during the same program that the majority of Fukushima residents want the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants decommissioned, adding that all nuclear power plants in Japan should be phased out.
Few would feel stronger about abolishing nuclear power than the residents who directly faced the fears and damage from the triple meltdown in Fukushima.
“Nuclear power is not something humans can control. (The disaster) is unforgivable,” said Kazuo Akama, 70, a long time resident of Iwaki.
“You must be a victim to understand that. (Nuclear power) is no good. It’s no good,” he said.