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Japan Election Report: Hawk new Tokyo governor

Date Posted: 1999-04-16

Nationalist Shintaro Ishihara easily won last weekend's Tokyo gubernatorial race, overwhelming all 19 opponents in a major show of support for the tough-talking and sometimes controversial novelist.

Needing a minimum of 25 percent to win the election, Ishihara easily exceeded that winning more than 1.7 million votes, 700,000 votes clear of his nearest rival, Kunio Hatoyama, a former deputy leader of the Democratic Party of Japan.

One campaign pledge that stirred debate among political analysts involved the return of the giant Yokota U.S. Air Force Base, located on the outskirts of Tokyo, which Ishihara says should be used as either an international airport or jointly used by the US military and Japan.

"The land, which includes a rarely used 4,000-meter runway and a deserted golf course, should be utilized for other purposes," he said, adding that, "it is time we throw away the myth about America," AFP news quoted Ishihara as saying.

Ishihara's campaign pledge, however, fell on deaf ears Monday, when Vice Foreign Minister Shunji Yanai rejected his proposal.

''The government has no intention of requesting (to the United States) the return or joint use (of Yokota),'' the minister told a press conference.

Ishihara also openly criticized Japan's role in the recent spying missions by North Korea, in which fishing vessels disguised as Japanese fishing boats penetrated Japan's territorial waters. Ishihara claimed it was an "insulting attitude to our nation," AFP said, adding Japan's Maritime Safety Agency boats should carry missiles to defend the country against intruders.

Ishihara's victory met with mixed emotions in Okinawa, with Governor Keiichi Inamine saying he will ''seek peaceful ways to reduce U.S. military bases'' here, according to a Kyodo news report, in a criticism of his proposal for the return of Yokota Air Base.

According to a Christian Science Monitor report, Ishihara may even attempt to emulate former Okinawa governor Masahide Ota, and make "the bases a major political issue" and use "public opinion to force the national government and the US to make changes."

But there is little hope of that happening in Tokyo, where analysts believe anti-base rhetoric is only good for attracting voters, not for making dramatic and sweeping policy changes, the Monitor added.

Ishihara, an independent without backing from any of the major political parties, was a hot favorite for the position, winning over voters disillusioned with the policies of the Liberal Democratic Party.

But his words haven't always met with such fervor. Nearly 10 years ago, Ishihara angered US policymakers with his book "A Japan that Can Say No," a catch-cry he used to great effect in this election campaign, often citing Japan's inability to say "no" to the United States as a weakness he wanted to overcome.

In 1995, Ishihara quit the Lower House, stating he had become disillusioned with politics. The 66-year-old former Liberal Democratic Party member repeatedly reminded voters of the current stagnant political system during his straight-talking election speeches.

"What I realized during the campaign was that the established parties have no value, and that's what the people felt," adding "the people have waited for a strong and clear message," he announced at his victory speech. Voter turnout reached 58 percent, up 7 percentage points from the last gubernatorial election.

Throughout the campaign, Ishihara offered the electorate a strong leadership. It will quickly be put to the test during his first days in office when he is confronted with a $1.7 billion budget deficit and record unemployment levels, major concerns voters hope Ishihara's tough talking and outspoken views can help repair.

Meanwhile in Osaka, former TV personality Knock Yokoyama has been re-elected governor. Yokoyama, like Ishihara, ran as an independent candidate without party support.

National broadcaster NHK said in a report Monday, the poor showing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday's elections, most notably in the Tokyo race, may bring the Liberal Democratic Party leadership under scrutiny, but added many within the LDP deny that possibility.

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