In the Yamaguchi gubernatorial election held Sunday, Mr. Shigetaro Yamamoto, a former bureaucrat of the infrastructure and transport ministry supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, was elected the new governor, beating three other candidates.
Still, attention should be paid to the fact that Mr. Tetsunari Iida, a former nuclear engineer known as “Mr. Green Energy,” put up a good fight. Although he failed to grab the governorship, the election results will make the established major parties realize that they will not be able to ignore the will of the many people calling for an end to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power generation.
Mr. Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, a nongovernmental organization, announced his candidacy slightly more than a month before the election. He called for a complete revocation of Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s plan to construct a nuclear power plant on Nagashima Island in Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, a town comprising a peninsula and islands in the western part of the Inland Sea. Until June, he had been special adviser for the Osaka prefectural and city governments, the political turf of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.
Incumbent Gov. Sekinari Nii had picked Mr. Yamamoto as his heir apparent. Apparently Mr. Iida’s candidacy helped bring more voters to polling stations. Voter turnout increased from the previous record low 37.21 percent to 45.32 percent this time. Mr. Yamamoto won 252,461 votes while Mr. Iida won 185,654 votes. Two other candidates got 55,418 and 37,150 votes.
Yamaguchi Prefecture is a stronghold of the LDP, which scored wins in three of the prefecture’s four single-seat constituencies in the 2009 Lower House election. But given the fact that Mr. Iida’s candidacy was rather sudden and that he received no support from any established party, his performance was enough to surprise political observers from established parties.
The important development related to construction of the Kaminoseki plant was that the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant had suspended construction plans. Mr. Yamamoto, a supporter of nuclear power generation, avoided making construction of the Kaminoseki plant an election issue.
He could not say that he would restart construction; instead, he did make clear that he will freeze it. He said he will follow the incumbent governor’s decision not to renew a permit for reclaiming land from the sea, which is needed for construction, and will accept personal responsibility for dealing with the issue.
Although he has the power to renew the permit, an exit poll showed that 77.9 percent of voters thought that it was better to not go ahead with constructing the nuclear power plant. Mr. Yamamoto should give serious thought to such public opposition to the construction plan.