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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012
Voters cite nuclear power worries, hopes for economy
Voters had mounting concerns, including over nuclear fears and the economic slowdown, as official campaigning began Tuesday for the Dec. 16 general election.
And one place where candidates, even their campaign posters, were conspicuously absent was a former high school in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, which continues to house some 160 evacuees from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdown disaster, which started in March last year.
Evacuees from the disaster, who number in the tens of thousands nationwide, said politicians have forgotten the hardships they have had to bear even as they make the future of the nation's nuclear power program a key campaign issue for the first time.
"This is no time for an election," said Ryohei Endo, who fled to a temporary dwelling in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, after radioactive fallout from the triple-meltdown catastrophe rendered his hometown unlivable.
"Compensation and decontamination work have not progressed" since the disaster started last year, said Endo, 76, from Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, a coastal town 20 km south of the crippled plant. "I wonder how concerned (the candidates) are about people leading miserable lives like us?"
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, chose to make their first official campaign speeches in Fukushima Prefecture.
Endo said he has heard an increasing number of candidates and their supporters pitching their policies in his neighborhood since Noda dissolved the Lower House on Nov. 16. But instead of welcoming the candidates' visits, he said, "I assume they want to be Diet members for their own sake in the end."
In Tokyo, people who gathered for a stump speech said they will vote for any party that repeals the 2015 doubling of the 5 percent consumption tax that the Noda government managed to get enacted in the Diet last summer.
"If the consumption tax is increased, small and medium-size firms will go bust," said Masao Chinen, 61.
Kazuyuki Raiju said he may cast his vote for a party that promises to end nuclear power, in consideration of the 160,000 people who are still under evacuation orders due to the Fukushima crisis.
"The Fukushima nuclear plant (crisis) shows that when something like this happens, we have no means to contain it," Raiju, 64, said.
In the former high school still serving as an evacuee shelter in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, Tomoe Unuma, who runs a coffee shop in the building, said, "This place seems like a symbol of abandonment."
The building boasts no candidate campaign posters and no candidates showed up on the first morning of official campaigning.
"I am mad that people talk about (things related to) Fukushima only when there's an election. But on the other hand, I had hopes that they would listen to us," Unuma, 37, said.