The victory by the 53-year-old newcomer may give a boost to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party as they seek to recover from scandals which at one point caused public support for the government to plummet. The election was the first major local poll since Abe revamped the Cabinet and the LDP leadership on Aug. 3.
Turnout was 43.48 percent, up from 31.74 percent in the previous gubernatorial election, according to the local election board.
The LDP put a great deal of effort into winning the election in the prefecture northeast of Tokyo, seeing it as a prelude to three lower house by-elections scheduled for October. In July, the LDP faced a humiliating setback in the Tokyo metropolitan government elections and a defeat in the Sendai mayoral election in northeastern Japan.
After a neck-and-neck race, Oigawa, a former Microsoft Japan Co. executive who was also backed by the LDP’s junior coalition ally the Komeito party, defeated 71-year-old Hashimoto, who was supported by the local chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation and others.
During campaigning, Oigawa vowed to implement a limit to the number of terms a governor can serve. The proposal comes as a direct response to Hashimoto, who with a win in the election would have become the country’s mostly re-elected sitting governor.
Hashimoto’s campaign platform included a promise not to approve the restart of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant which has remained offline since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. That is the only commercial nuclear power station in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Oigawa did not make clear his stance on the restart of the plant.
Another newcomer Makomi Tsuruta, a 52-year-old animal rights activist backed by the Japanese Communist Party, also opposed restarting the nuclear plant and pledged to seek its decommissioning.
Oigawa secured 497,361 votes against Hashimoto’s 427,743 and Tsuruta’s 122,013.
The fate of the single-reactor plant sitting on the same Pacific coast as the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been one of the election’s main issues. The aging plant faces decommissioning if it cannot clear safety screening by regulators by November 2018, when it reaches 40 years since it began operating.