* Victory for PM-backed Masuzoe was widely expected
* Anti-nuclear former PM Hosokawa takes 3rd place
* Nationalist former air force chief takes fourth
* Anti-nuclear power vote split
(Recasts with election results)
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO, Feb 9 A candidate backed by Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe won Sunday's election for governor of Tokyo,
frustrating a rival's efforts to make the vote a referendum on
the Japanese leader's pro-nuclear energy policy nearly three
years after the Fukushima disaster
The widely-expected victory by former health minister Yoichi
Masuzoe comes as a relief for Abe, who had suffered a rare
setback in another local election last month.
The 65-year-old Masuzoe, backed by Abe's Liberal Democratic
Party, was the winner by a wide margin, according to media exit
polls. Even before most votes were counted, Masuzoe's opponents
The winner's most prominent rival was former prime minister
Morihiro Hosokawa, 76, who came out of retirement to run and -
with support from charismatic ex-premier Junichiro Koizumi - had
put opposition to atomic energy at the core of his platform in
the race to lead the capital city of 13.3 million people.
Hosokawa came in a close third after lawyer Kenji
Utsunomiya, who also opposes nuclear power, NHK public TV said.
A half-hour before the polls closed, turnout was a mere 34
percent, well below recent polls, the broadcaster said.
"I will make Tokyo the world's No. 1 city," Masuzoe told
supporters. "I want to work on social welfare, disaster
preparedness, the economy and especially to make the Tokyo 2020
Olympics a success."
Masuzoe had not made energy policy a prime focus, although
he said Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear power in
the medium to long term. After his victory was announced, he
reiterated that stance, adding he wanted to raise the share of
renewable energy sources in Tokyo's electricity supply.
Public trust in nuclear energy in Japan was battered by the
March 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc's
Fukushima nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, triggered by an
earthquake and tsunami. It was the world's worst nuclear
accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Surveys have shown that most Japanese voters favour
abandoning nuclear power, either immediately or in the longer
term, but they also indicate that energy policy is not as
important an issue for voters as jobs and the economy, an ageing
population and welfare.
However, Masuzoe's win is unlikely to mean smooth sailing
for Abe's efforts to restart reactors shut down after the
Fukushima accident. This is because of delays in safety checks
by a new atomic regulator and the need to persuade host
communities to agree to the government's plans.
Hosokawa opposed Abe's plans to make nuclear power a core
source of energy and to restart the reactors.
Addressing supporters, Hosokawa said he felt there was a gap
between the results and the enthusiasm he felt on the campaign
"I am very sorry that my efforts were insufficient and that
I could not meet the expectations of those who supported me so
earnestly," he said.
Some anti-nuclear activists had urged Hosokawa and
Utsunomiya, who was backed by the Japanese Communist Party, to
join forces to avoid splitting the anti-nuclear vote.
Hosokawa led an anti-LDP coalition that briefly ousted the
long-ruling party in 1993 for the first time in nearly four
decades, but he quit the next year over a financial scandal.
Koizumi, 72, was one of Japan's most popular leaders during
his 2001-2006 term and was once Abe's mentor.
Both ex-premiers supported nuclear power while they were in
office but changed their stance after the Fukushima disaster.
Former air force chief of staff Toshio Tamogami, who
resigned in 2008 after denying in an essay that Japan was the
aggressor in World War Two, came in fourth. The pro-nuclear
power Tamogami heads the nationalist group "Gambare Nippon!"
("Stand Firm! Japan").
The election was held to replace Naoki Inose, who resigned
in December over a financial scandal.
(Editing by William Mallard and Richard Borsuk)