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Tokyo governor election kicks off
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 29, 2012

Japan's 'third force' pledges leadership for polls
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 29, 2012 - The maverick mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, said Thursday his political party would provide strong leadership for Japan in next month's election, as he staked out its campaign platform.

His Japan Restoration Party, which was formed in September, unveiled a set of election pledges with the promise "To make Japan wise and strong".

The new party plans to field around 160 candidates across Japan, and is positioning itself as a "third force" for voters fed up with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and its rival Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Some opinion polls put Hashimoto's party above Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's DPJ. Most predict the LDP will return to power after the December 16 poll, but only with the support of a smaller party.

The JRP may try to fulfil that role, observers say.

Hashimoto has ceded the number one spot in the JRP to former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who brought along the aged lawmakers of his own Party of the Sun in an attempt to unify the non-establishment vote.

Critics charge the two are ideologically incompatible and say their jerry-rigged coalition is almost bound to fall apart down the road.

But on Thursday the two men appeared side by side to emphasise what they have in common -- both have run huge cities in a characteristically no-nonsense way.

"The Japanese government has tumbled but neither Tokyo nor Osaka fell," Hashimoto told reporters. "What is needed most in politics is not words but action."

The DPJ's three years in power -- with three prime ministers -- have left voters underwhelmed after a series of policy flip-flops, foreign policy missteps and a bungled response to the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster.

The Hash-Ish union, as some have dubbed it, pledged to strengthen surveillance in Japan's seas in the wake of a bitter months-long dispute with China over the sovereignty of an archipelago in the East China Sea.

Ishihara's bid to buy the islands is blamed by many for the fiery dispute with Beijing that has soured diplomatic ties and the lucrative trade relationship.

Party promises also include a reduction of corporate tax and support for Japan's participation in talks to reach a Pacific-wide free trade deal that is hated by the country's farmers.

The race to elect a successor to colourful and controversial Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara kicked off Thursday with his handpicked nominee expected to cruise to an easy victory.

Ishihara, a veteran right-wing firebrand who is widely blamed for exacerbating a territorial row with China, abruptly resigned to lead a new political party in a December 16 general election that coincides with the poll in the city of 13 million.

His chosen successor, deputy governor Naoki Inose, 66, a prize-winning author like Ishihara, has a commanding lead among the nine candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring, analysts say.

The Tokyo vote will essentially be a referendum on Ishihara, who was a year into his fourth four-year term and provoked a flare-up with Beijing over his plans to buy a group of islands at the centre of a dispute with China.

Inose, seen as a tough-minded reformer, has pledged to continue Ishihara's bid for Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympic Games, despite the city's costly failure to win the 2016 Games.

Despite the overall financial gloom in Japan, the capital exists in something of a bubble, and still boasts eye-wateringly expensive eateries and shops stocking the world's finest luxury goods.

Because of this relative wealth and stability, Tokyoites are unlikely to seek any real change, said Tomoaki Iwai, political scientist at Nihon University, meaning Inose is all-but guaranteed victory.

"A focus, if any, will be how big a victory Mr. Inose will be able to pull off," Iwai said.

Inose's rival candidates are likely to attack him and Ishihara on an ill-fated bank the Tokyo government launched in 2005 to help local small businesses.

The bank's balance sheet quickly turned to tatters with a series of loans that went bad and it is now using public cash to try to get back on an even financial keel.

The only one of his eight opponents who could come close to Inose is Kenji Utsunomiya, 66, a veteran human rights lawyer and a former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

He has won endorsement from left-leaning parties for his calls to permanently close Japan's nuclear plants following the atomic catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant after last year's tsunami.

The plant, around 220 kilometres (135 miles) from Tokyo, supplied the capital with electricity until its reactors went into meltdown, spewing radiation over the land and sea.

Little radiation is recorded as having reached Tokyo, but the disaster left the city's inhabitants wary of the technology.

The Tokyo government is a major shareholder in the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, but Inose is credited as having been tough on the utility, which has since been taken into public ownership.


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