A candidate backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was elected governor of Tokyo yesterday, frustrating a rival's efforts to make the vote a referendum on the prime minister's pro-nuclear energy policy nearly three years after the Fukushima disaster.
The widely expected victory of former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe comes as a relief for Abe, who suffered a rare setback in a local election last month.
The 65-year-old Masuzoe, backed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, was the winner by a wide margin, according to media exit polls. Even before most votes were counted, Masuzoe's opponents conceded defeat.
The winner'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 put opposition to atomic energy at the core of his platform in the race to lead the capital city of 13.3 million people. Hosokawa came in a close third after lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, who also opposes nuclear power, NHK public TV said.
Watch: Govt-backed pro-nuclear candidate wins Tokyo governor vote
A half-hour before the polls closed, turnout was a mere 34 per cent, well below recent polls, the broadcaster said.
"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."
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.
Public trust in nuclear energy in Japan was battered by the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.
Surveys have shown that most 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.
Former air force chief of staff Toshio Tamogami, who resigned in 2008 after denying in an essay that Japan was the aggressor in the second world war, came in fourth. The pro-nuclear power Tamogami heads the nationalist group Ganbare Nippon.