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Ishihara re-elected Tokyo governor in post-quake vote

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) April 10, 2011
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.

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.

earlier related report
Ishihara: Immovable strongman at Tokyo's helm
Tokyo (AFP) April 10, 2011 - Shintaro Ishihara, who won his fourth term as Tokyo governor Sunday, is back at the helm of a city facing power shortages and radiation fears from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

With the public's attention firmly fixed on the world's worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl and the aftermath of a devastating tsunami, Ishihara spent much of his campaign focused on the disaster.

The nuclear power plant, 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Tokyo, was one of the major power suppliers for the megacity.

Now with four of its six reactors crippled, and radiation leaking into the air and water around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, voters' attention was largely concentrated on the crisis, which at one point saw radioactive iodine-131 detected in Tokyo tap water.

Ishihara, 78, who has a strong environmental pedigree, invited the cameras to watch him drink water at a purification plant last month in a bid to prove his faith in the safety of the city's supply.

The novelist-turned-politician has led the metropolis since 1999, earning high approval ratings with policies such as banning diesel engines, enforcing measures against climate change and creating a new-look Tokyo marathon.

A day before the ballot, Ishihara lashed out at the banks of electricity-sapping vending machines found on hundreds of streets throughout the capital.

"We can live without vending machines," he told a televised news conference after being assured of his election victory. "You can keep things cool in a refrigerator at home.

He also hit out at pachinko pin-ball parlors with their garish neon signs.

"People who play pachinko should stay away from it," he said. "It's only in Japan that electricity is used for such unnecessary things. If we didn't need all that power, we wouldn't need the Fukushima plant."

Over the past 12 years, Ishihara has been criticised for his spending on a failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics and on ShinGinko Tokyo, a bank aimed at helping small businesses that fell deeply into the red.

The conservative politician was at the forefront of a campaign to clamp down on the sale of manga comics and anime films with extreme depictions of rape, incest and other sex crimes, despite industry charges of censorship.

The Tokyo metropolitan assembly adopted a bill in December banning under 18s from buying or renting materials that depict such sexual acts in "unjustifiably glorified or exaggerated ways".

Ishihara has long said "unhealthy" manga and anime -- widely available in the city of more than 13 million people -- are a poor reflection of "the conscience of the Japanese."

Ishihara -- a committed conservative and unapologetic nationalist -- is well known for his sharp tongue and stands apart from the many grey suits that populate Japanese politics.

In a country fond of reticence, Ishihara has repeatedly proved he is unafraid to ruffle feathers and caused uproar last year with his comments on homosexuality.

He told a news conference he believed homosexual people "are missing something, probably something to do with the genes. I feel sorry for them, they are a minority."

He has used racial slurs to ridicule Chinese and Korean residents and once denounced the United States as a nation of "bigots," waging a long public battle for Japanese commercial jets to use a sprawling US base near Tokyo.

He outraged US lawmakers more than two decades ago with his book, "A Japan that Can Say No," in which he described the US military shield around Japan as an illusion and US criticism of Japan as racially motivated.

The governor has repeatedly raised eyebrows in China, a nation with which Japan has an uneasy relationship, at least in part because of the invasion and occupation by imperial troops of a vast swathe of the country in the 1930s.

In 1990, Ishihara told a US magazine: "Japanese troops are said to have engaged in a massacre in Nanjing but it is not true. It is a fabrication by the Chinese side." China says 300,000 people were killed in the 1937 massacre.

Last month he issued an uncharacteristic public apology and retraction after describing the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11 as "divine punishment" for a nation that was becoming "greedy".

But even this overstepping of the mark in a country still reeling from a disaster that has left 28,000 dead or missing was not enough to keep him from victory.

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