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Monday, Jan. 28, 2008

Hashimoto elected governor of Osaka


Staff writer

OSAKA — Toru Hashimoto scored a landslide victory Sunday in Osaka's gubernatorial election, which was seen as having national implications.

News photo
Toru Hashimoto celebrates Sunday night at his campaign headquarters in Osaka. KYODO PHOTO

Hashimoto, 38, a lawyer and popular TV figure, was endorsed by the prefectural chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party and supported by New Komeito, the LDP's ruling coalition partner.

When he succeeds Fusae Ohta, Hashimoto will be the youngest of the nation's 47 governors and only the fourth in the postwar period to take office while in his 30s.

Hashimoto's main opponent was Sadatoshi Kumagai, 63, a former professor at Osaka University graduate school backed by the Democratic Party and other opposition parties.

The three other candidates were Shoji Umeda, 57, a lawyer backed by the Japan Communist Party, and two independents, Seiichi Sugiura and Masaaki Takahashi.

Hashimoto captured 1,832,857 votes, attracting almost twice as many ballots as Kumagai's 999,082.

Hashimoto's victory in the high-profile race is likely to provide relief to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's ruling bloc, particularly because it comes after the coalition's candidate lost in the Osaka mayoral election in November.

It marks a setback for the DPJ-led opposition camp, which had hoped that a win Sunday would add momentum to its offensive against the ruling camp in the divided Diet and its push for an early general election.

Voter turnout was estimated at 48.95 percent, the local election commission said. Turnout was a record low 40.49 percent in the last election four years ago.

According to an exit poll by Kyodo News, Hashimoto, who has frequently appeared as a commentator on TV talk shows, won majority support from unaffiliated as well as female voters.

"I'm only 38 years old, but I've got a lot of energy and I want to borrow everybody's energy to help change Osaka," Hashimoto said at his campaign headquarters, where he celebrated his victory with supporters and friends.

In response to media questions about how he will deal specifically with Osaka's fiscal problems, he said, "I realize it will be very hard to change the prefecture's financial situation, but I will make efforts and work with the people of Osaka."

Sunday's election ends a period of political confusion in Osaka, which began in early December when Ohta, after being embroiled in financial scandals, announced she would not seek a third term.

Ohta's sudden decision forced the ruling and opposition parties, which jointly backed her in 2004, to scramble for candidates. Hashimoto initially said publicly he had no intention of running but relented after other potential candidates, including former Diet member Kiyoshi Nishikawa, turned down requests by the LDP's prefectural chapter.

Hashimoto was a controversial choice for both LDP central headquarters in Tokyo and New Komeito. The LDP HQ chose not to officially endorse him. It was worried Osaka voters would see support as interference from Tokyo and was doubtful about his chances. New Komeito was concerned about his young age and statements he has made on TV that he thinks Japan should have nuclear weapons.

The DPJ's Osaka prefectural chapter was initially divided about the possibility of jointly supporting a candidate with the LDP and only decided to run a separate candidate on the advice of party President Ichiro Ozawa.

Hashimoto and Kumagai ended up announcing their candidacies in mid-December, about three weeks before campaigning kicked off Jan. 10, leaving them little time to prepare.

Information from Kyodo added



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