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Victory of LDP-backed candidate in Niigata gubernatorial race likely to give boost to Abe and key ally

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

A ruling-party supported candidate won the Niigata governor’s election on Sunday, providing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and one of his key Liberal Democratic Party allies with a big morale boost in the midst of ongoing Diet scandals.

In a tight contest that has implications for both Abe’s political fortunes and the country’s nuclear power policy, Hideyo Hanazumi, 60, a former secretary to powerful LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai, beat Chikako Ikeda, 57, a former Kashiwazaki Municipal Assembly member who had the support of five major opposition parties.

The race had been seen outside of Niigata Prefecture as a proxy vote on the leadership of Abe and Nikai, and how they and the ruling coalition have handled a string of scandals involving the prime minister and a sign of how voters felt about the restart of two reactors at the prefecture’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which is operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.

With Hanazumi’s victory, Abe and the ruling party may push harder to pass legislation before the current Diet sessions ends on June 20, while the prime minister and Nikai, a key Abe ally, can firm up interparty support in advance of September’s LDP presidential election.

Attention within and outside Niigata now turns to whether the new governor will work with Tepco and the central government to restart the reactors, despite strong local opposition.

A third candidate, Satoshi Annaka, 40, also ran as an independent.