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Saturday, April 7, 2007

Ishihara seen leading in runup to Sunday poll

Asano in second spot for Tokyo governor

Staff writer

With Sunday election day in Tokyo fast approaching, the 14 candidates vying to be governor are making their last attempts to woo voters.

News photo
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara is surrounded by security guards March 22 in Tokyo as his campaign for the April 8 gubernatorial poll begins. AP PHOTOS

A number of newspapers reported earlier this week that incumbent Shintaro Ishihara is in the lead, with Shiro Asano, the former Miyagi governor, in second place.

Both candidates are running as independents, but the ruling coalition -- the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito -- has made it known it supports Ishihara, 74, and the Democratic Party of Japan is unofficially backing Asano, 59. However, reports are that some DPJ supporters are behind Ishihara.

Manzo Yoshida, 59, a dentist and former Adachi Ward mayor who is officially backed by the Japan Communist Party, is in third place, followed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, 73, designer of the National Art Center in Tokyo. He started his own party for the race and is in a close fourth. Both, however, trail far behind Ishihara and Asano.

People who do not vote along party lines hold the key to the election's outcome, and polls show they favor Ishihara. But many are still undecided.

Unlike in 2003, when incumbent Shintaro Ishihara beat four candidates with a record 3.08 million-vote win, the two-time governor is in a tougher race this year -- one of his own making.

Not only has he had to counter the bad image created by slurs he made against women and non-Japanese that have triggered lawsuits, he has also had to deal with criticism for the huge amounts of money he spent on official trips abroad and giving one of his sons the contract for a public art project.

At noon Thursday, Ishihara was in front of Tokiwadai Station, on the Tobu-Tojo Line, in Itabashi Ward to address a group of about 200 people.

He claimed he had moved Tokyo's budget into the black, saying this is important for the metro government to be able to carry out measures to improve safety, the environment and child welfare, issues of key concern.

The majority of the audience were seniors, who applauded when Ishihara talked about trying to get the Olympics for the economic benefits as well as to "hold an event that would touch people's hearts."

"He's been doing a good job. Not everybody can speak out against the central government like him," an 80-year-old man said. "When I voted for him last time, I thought I'd just give him another chance. But this time, I'm voting because I want him to do another term."

News photo
Former Miyagi Gov. Shiro Asano, considered the most viable candidate to beat incumbent Shintaro Ishihara in Sunday's Tokyo gubernatorial poll, greets people in the capital as he kicks off his campaign March 22.

A 55-year-old housewife said she was happy Ishihara had been tough on cleaning Tokyo's air by requiring trucks to use exhaust filters. "He's a man of words, and I like his strong leadership," she said.

However, Naohiko Ishide, 72, said he would vote for Ishihara but not with any enthusiasm.

"I think he's too conservative and I've felt that some of the things he's said were problematic," Ishide said. "But then, he's a man of action."

Ishide, who has lived in Sendai, said that while Asano had changed things in extremely conservative Miyagi Prefecture, he thinks he is too idealist.

He also said party backing was key to beating Ishihara.

"Unless the DPJ equally becomes established like the ruling LDP, I don't think we'll see a candidate who can win against someone strong like Ishihara," Ishide said.

The day before Ishihara's appearance in Itabashi, Asano was in front of a much smaller crowd outside JR Kinshicho Station in Sumida Ward.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama came out in his first show of support for Asano, who is also a lecturer on local government issues at Keio University in Tokyo.

Asano told the crowd that many people had come up to him to tell him to beat Ishihara. He said that if elected, he would make Tokyo a friendlier place for the weak in society and would make the workings of the government more transparent.

As Asano shook hands in the crowd, Hatoyama told them he agreed with Asano that Tokyo did not need to win the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, one of Ishihara campaign promises.

One 60-year-old woman from the neighborhood who came out to hear Asano speak said she would vote for him Sunday.

"Ishihara wasn't so bad, but then I think he's been in office for too long and I don't like his close advisers, who seem to be using him. Besides, I don't think we need to hold the Olympics," she said.

Hisao Nagaiwa, 64, who lives in one of the apartments in Edokawa Ward run by the metro government and was passing by, also said he would vote for Asano.

"Public apartments are supposed to be for the not so wealthy citizens, but our rent has been rising steadily and I don't appreciate that," Nagaiwa said.

One woman said her vote definitely wasn't going to Ishihara, but she had not yet made her choice.

"I don't want money to be wasted on things that aren't necessary," said the 35-year-old mother of two. "I want Tokyo to be a better place for my kids to live."

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The Japan Times

Article 8 of 12 in National news

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