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Ishihara re-elected Tokyo governor in post-quake vote

10 april 2011, 22:44
0
Shintaro Ishihara. ©AFP
Shintaro Ishihara. ©AFP
Shintaro Ishihara, famous for his often provocative nationalistic remarks, won a fourth term as Tokyo governor Sunday in local elections dominated by last month's massive disaster in Japan, AFP reports.

He came under fire last month for calling the March 11 quake-tsunami catastrophe "divine punishment", claiming the waves had washed away the "greedy mind" of Japanese people. He later retracted the comment and publicly apologised.

The 78-year-old novelist-turned-politician, in office since 1999, easily beat 10 other candidates in the election as workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant continued their battle to cool overheating reactors.

Ishihara -- who has a penchant for controversy and whose assertive style projects him as a man of action -- collected about 2,615,000 votes, according to the final count.

Comedian-turned-provincial governor Hideo Higashikokubaru took 1,690,000 and 51-year-old restaurant chain founder Miki Watanabe 1,013,000.

After the disaster ravaged the country's northeast and left the power plant in danger of a meltdown, campaigning was devoid of usual confrontational bickering and analysts said Ishihara's win never looked in doubt.

Tokyo will lead the country's recovery as the "dynamo of Japan", Ishihara said after his victory was ensured, adding that Tokyo hoped to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics as a "big catalyst" for recovery.

"If Tokyo comes to a halt in confusion, the country comes to a halt."

"Japan faces hard times ahead," he added. "Each person should restrain their personal greed. Otherwise Japan will not revive."

He repeatedly said it was time to give up such luxuries as vending machines and pachinko gambling machine parlours, which consume huge amounts of electricity -- currently in short supply due to the catastrophe.

"Let's save a little and give it to the country's reconstruction. Otherwise, we will become a subject nation of China," Ishihara said in an earlier speech.

Tokyo was one of 12 prefectures where the post of governor was contested on Sunday.

Elections were also held for mayors in four major cities, members of 41 prefectural legislatures and 15 legislatures in key municipalities.

Before the natural disaster, the elections were seen as an important gauge of public support for unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Kan, whose approval rating slipped below 20 percent before the disaster, faced a resurgent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the main opposition, and revolt within his own Democratic Party of Japan.

His centre-left party, which ended half a century of almost unbroken conservative rule by the LDP with an electoral landslide in 2009, did not field its own gubernatorial candidates in Tokyo and three other prefectures because of the likelihood of defeat.

Watanabe, a rival candidate, had accused Ishihara of promoting nuclear power generation.

But, in a television debate, Ishihara denied he thought Japan should be totally dependent on atomic power.

Ishihara served in the national parliament as an LDP member before taking the helm of the capital city of 13 million people in 1999 as an independent. He was backed at Sunday's polls by the LDP and its centre-right ally.

He continues to deny Japanese atrocities before and during World War II such as the Rape of Nanking, an incident that is a running sore in relations with China, which says hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered by invading Japanese troops.

He first gained prominence in the West for co-authoring the 1989 book "The Japan That Can Say No", which called for Japan to assert itself against its former occupying power and security ally the United States.

Ishihara was criticised for spending heavily on Tokyo's failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics and on a city-run bank that he helped create but which has fallen deeply into the red.

But he was also credited with helping the megalopolis's budget return to the black in the 2005-2006 financial year for the first time in 16 years.

Tokyo's gross domestic product in the financial year to March 2011 was 85 trillion yen ($1 trillion), accounting for 16 percent of Japan's GDP. The figure puts the Japanese capital on a par with the entire South Korean economy, according to the International Monetary Fund.


By Shigemi Sato

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