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Japan campaign opens with focus on economy, nukes

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 4, 2012 at 3:49 am •  Published: December 4, 2012

Before the March 11, 2011, disaster, Japan depended on nuclear energy for about a third of its electricity needs. Now only two reactors of 50 are operating, and there is widespread debate over how many more should be restarted — if any — while Japan develops other sources of power.

"This is the first national election since 3/11. We are aiming for a society without nuclear power, zero nuclear power," Yukiko Kada, head of the Tomorrow Party and governor of Shiga prefecture, told listeners in the village of Iitate, just outside the exclusion zone.

Farther north, along Japan's tsunami-battered northeastern coast, people who lost homes, livelihoods and loved ones are feeling forgotten by the government, which seems preoccupied not only with economic and nuclear woes, but also with a diplomatic spat with China over a cluster of tiny, uninhabited islands claimed by both countries.

"It doesn't really matter who wins (the election). It's not going to change things for us," said Yaeko Tabata, a woman in her 50s from the obliterated town of Minami-Sanriku. She has opened a hair salon in a rented trailer on a hill above the barren town.

Much of the rubble in town has been cleaned up, but virtually no rebuilding has begun amid delays in drawing up town layouts and dealing with government red tape for funding. Townsfolk live in rows of cramped, government-built temporary houses, surrounded by empty fields and concrete foundations where houses once stood.

Fueling the tsunami victims' frustration was a government audit last month that showed about a quarter of the 11.7 trillion yen ($148 billion) budgeted for disaster reconstruction was actually winding up in unrelated projects, from a contact lens factory in central Japan to road construction in the faraway southern island of Okinawa.

"That was shocking. How did that money end up in Okinawa?" asked Osamu Takahashi, the owner a small eatery in a cluster of about 20 pre-fabricated shops in Minami-Sanriku. "You get the feeling the government doesn't care."

Since the release of the audit, the government has suspended 35 projects in the reconstruction budget that were deemed not to be directly related to disaster recovery — but this amounted to just a fraction of the overall figure of misdirected funds.

Dissatisfaction over the government has helped new parties gain momentum. Running second to the LDP in recent polls is the Japan Restoration Party, led by Tokyo's outspoken former governor Shintaro Ishihara.

Ishihara stirred up Japan's territorial dispute with China when he proposed back in April that Tokyo would buy and develop islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The central government stepped in, buying the islands to Beijing's chagrin, but saying it had no plans to develop them.

Ishihara's party got backing from 10.4 percent of would-be voters in a Kyodo News agency poll over the weekend, second behind the LDP, which received support from 18.4 percent. The DPJ was third with 9.3 percent.

The New Komeito party, backed by the large lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, was fourth with 4.8 percent and the new Tomorrow Party was fifth with 3.5 percent.


Associated Press Writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.