* LDP'S Yoichi Masuzoe new Tokyo governor
* Tokyo election a victory for Abe and his nuke policy
* Anti-nuclear former PM Hosokawa takes 3rd place
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO, Feb 10 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe's favoured candidate won Sunday's election for governor of
Tokyo, quashing efforts to make the vote a referendum on Abe's
pro-nuclear energy policy nearly three years after the Fukushima
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, taking more than the
combined total of his two closest rivals in the race to run
Tokyo, a city of 13.3 million people.
Masuzoe'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
opposed Abe's atomic energy policy.
"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."
Hosokawa came in third after lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, who
also opposes nuclear power. Turnout was 46.14 percent, the
third-lowest in history.
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").
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.
Abe welcomed Masuzoe's victory and said the two of them
would now join forces to bring off a splendid 2020 Olympics.
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. Analysts said Hosokawa and Koizumi had
failed to gain traction for their single-issue campaign.
Both ex-premiers supported nuclear power while they were in
office but changed their stance after the Fukushima disaster.
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.
The 72-year-old Koizumi, one of Japan's most popular leaders
during his 2001-2006 term and once Abe's mentor, vowed in a
statement to continue the fight. The promise could mean he still
poses a headache for Abe, since nuclear power is likely to be a
focus in some local elections later this year.