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Masuzoe sweeps Tokyo gubernatorial election

TOKYO (Kyodo)--Former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe swept to a landslide victory in Sunday's Tokyo gubernatorial election, defeating two major antinuclear candidates including former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa.

     "I went out to campaign all across Tokyo and spoke to more voters than any other candidate," Masuzoe told his supporters in declaring victory. "I kept explaining about my policy plans."

     Masuzoe, 65, received over 2.11 million votes in the election assuring him of the top job in the Japanese capital, which has a population of more than 13 million.

     It was more than the combined votes for Kenji Utsunomiya, 67, former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, who was a distant second and Hosokawa, 76, who came third.

     An independent supported by the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition, Masuzoe has said he will make the 2020 Tokyo Games the best in Olympic history.

     He has also vowed to use his experience of heading the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare between 2007 and 2009 to make Tokyo the world's No. 1 city in such fields as disaster prevention, social welfare, business and education.

     Among his other campaign pledges are reducing to zero in a four-year term the number of children on waiting lists for admission to daycare facilities, and raising the ratio of renewable energy in Tokyo's total energy consumption to 20 percent from the current 6 percent.

     "I would like to show people from all over the world how attractive Tokyo is," Masuzoe said of his plans for the Olympics.

     The election was once thought to be a virtual referendum on the future of Japan's energy policy when Hosokawa entered the race after forming a rare alliance of two former prime ministers with Junichiro Koizumi to seek a permanent end to nuclear power generation.

     But voters apparently focused more attention on other issues, such as what the candidates said about coping with the Japanese capital's aging population and low birthrate.

     "Ending the use of nuclear energy was not treated as seriously as it should be," Hosokawa said. "There was some hesitation until I decided to run, so my preparation time was limited."

     Hosokawa and Utsunomiya both proposed ending the use of nuclear energy, supported by different opposition parties.

     Hosokawa put extra emphasis on his antinuclear drive, while Utsunomiya treated nuclear energy and other issues more equally. There were calls for a unified antinuclear candidate to challenge Masuzoe, but Hosokawa and Utsunomiya did not agree to that idea.

     Voter turnout was 46.14 percent, down sharply from 62.60 percent in the previous election in December 2012 and the third-lowest in the capital's history, according to the Tokyo metropolitan election management committee.

     "Voter turnout was extremely low, making things harder for me," Utsunomiya said.

     The heaviest snow in decades blanketed Tokyo and many other parts of Japan on Saturday, discouraging people from coming out to cast their votes the next day.

     A low voter turnout tends to favor a candidate backed by a wide range of groups. Masuzoe received support from not only the two ruling parties but also the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, known as Rengo.

     Utsunomiya is known for his contribution to the enactment of bills aimed at protecting borrowers from shady consumer finance firms and paying compensation to victims of serious crimes committed by the AUM Shinrikyo cult.

     Among the other candidates were former Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami, 65, and inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu, 85.

     "I achieved a certain result without having received any organized support," said Tamogami, who has said Japan needs nuclear plants and voiced his support for Abe's decision to visit the war-related Yasukuni Shrine last December.

     Nakamatsu was making his seventh attempt to become Tokyo governor.

     A total of 16 candidates, all of them men, ran in the election to choose a successor to Naoki Inose, who resigned in December after one year in office over his receipt of 50 million yen from scandal-tainted hospital chain Tokushukai.

     Inose garnered a record 4.33 million votes in the December 2012 election and was instrumental in Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

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