Fukushima gubernatorial race kicks off, voting set for Oct. 30

Photos: Candidates Yoshiaki Kusano (left) and Masao Uchibori

Campaigning for the 22nd gubernatorial election in Fukushima Prefecture officially got under way on Oct. 13 with Gov. Masao Uchibori's current four-year term nearing its end. The incumbent and a newcomer candidate are set to compete in the race. Uchibori, 58, is seeking a third term as an independent supported by the prefectural organizations of four political parties -- the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), its coalition partner Komeito, and two opposition parties, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People. Pitted against him is Yoshiaki Kusano, 66, a senior official of local labor and citizens' groups who is backed by the Japanese Communist Party (JCP). Uchibori's track record over the past eight years will be one of the main focuses of the 17-day campaign, while the process of recovery from the 2011 earthquake-tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant will also be central. Also at issue is the contentious central government plan to release into the sea treated but still radioactive wastewater from the plant, along with depopulation, rising prices and the coronavirus pandemic -- matters which require swift action from the prefectural government. Both candidates delivered their first campaign speeches in Fukushima city. Voting and ballot counting are scheduled for Oct. 30. Uchibori made his speech at the city's "Sankaku Hiroba" (triangular plaza) after praying for victory at Fukushima Inari Shrine. "Our long battle with reputational damage from the nuclear accident will continue," he said after noting that the prefecture must deal with natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, and rapid population decline. "I would like to take on the challenges of keeping the reconstruction works moving and revitalizing regional communities with all my energy and heart," he continued. Among his aides and supporters present were campaign team head Keiji Kanno, who also spoke to the crowd, and Takumi Nemoto of the LDP, a House of Representatives member elected from the prefecture's No. 2 constituency who expressed words of encouragement for Uchibori. Uchibori later headed for the Hamadori area, calling for support as he went south through 10 coastal municipalities from the town of Shinchi. He stopped to speak on streets in some of them, including Futaba town and Iwaki city. Kusano, for his part, made his inaugural campaign speech in front of the east exit of East Japan Railway Co.'s Fukushima Station. He argued against the discharge of the wastewater that has been accumulating at the crippled nuclear power plant. He criticized Uchibori for "effectively tolerating the wastewater release plan by, for example, giving prior approval to work to install relevant equipment." Campaign team chief Yuko Inoue also spoke to the crowd, while speeches were delivered by House of Councillors member Tomo Iwabuchi of the JCP, a resident of Fukushima city who was elected from a proportional representation section, and others. Kusano stumped around the four cities of Fukushima, Nihonmatsu, Motomiya and Koriyama as well as several other places. In the evening, a rally was held in Sukagawa city. The winner will see the completion of the second phase of the reconstruction and revitalization program in which the central government provides Fukushima Prefecture with significant funding for associated projects until the end of fiscal 2025 through March 2026. He will face the difficult mission of securing financial resources and building an institutional framework to ensure steady execution of medium- to long-term initiatives dealing with some crucial issues. Specifically, lifting all the longstanding evacuation orders for radioactive-contaminated "difficult-to-return" zones is among the prioritized agendas along with a need to make tangible progress in a project to found the Fukushima Institute for Research, Education and Innovation, which has been greenlighted by the national government for the Hamadori area. The incoming governor will need to be of sufficient caliber to allow him to create a clear future for Fukushima. 1.56 million eligible voters The number of eligible voters registered on Fukushima's electoral roll as of Oct. 12 stood at 1,561,993 -- 763,472 males and 798,521 females, according to data announced by the prefecture's election management committee. It is 52,381 fewer than the number as of Oct. 10 four years ago on the eve of the official start of campaigning for the previous gubernatorial election. (Translated by Kyodo News)