FUKUSHIMA – Opposition-backed former House of Councillors member Yuhei Sato overwhelmingly won Fukushima Prefecture’s gubernatorial election Sunday, following the former governor’s resignation and arrest over a bid-rigging and payoff scandal.
Supported by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party, Sato, 58, defeated four other challengers. Among the four was Masako Mori, 42, a lawyer and former Financial Services Agency official backed by Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the New Komeito party.
The DPJ, bitterly defeated in two by-elections last month under the ruling bloc led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, expressed hope that Sato’s victory will give it a boost in the run-up to the Okinawa gubernatorial contest next weekend and the unified local elections and upper house election next year.
In the gubernatorial election, all the candidates, also including Japanese Communist Party-backed Hideo Ogawa, 57, former prefectural assembly member Masanari Kawada, 63, and inventor Yoshishige Takahashi, 58, pledged to reform the prefectural administration.
With all votes counted, 497,171 went to Sato, 395,950 to Mori, 38,457 to Ogawa, 23,113 to Kawada and 10,598 to Takahashi, according to the election board.
Voter turnout was 58.77 percent, up 8.01 percentage points from the previous Fukushima gubernatorial election in September 2004, when it was 50.76 percent and the lowest on record, it said.
Taking advantage of his network, which he built while a lawmaker’s secretary, Sato successfully garnered votes from not only the region’s major labor unions — an important DPJ support base — but also conservatives.
Eisaku Sato, the former governor, was arrested last month for suspected involvement in a payoff scandal over a dam construction project the prefectural government had ordered.
Without completing his fifth four-year term, Sato resigned in September to take responsibility for the arrest of his brother Yuji over bid rigging in a separate public works project.