” Former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa got an unusual gift for his 76th birthday Tuesday — a possible ticket out 16 years of retirement and into the Tokyo governor’s seat. At least that’s the way another former prime minister, the popular Junichiro Koizumi, would have it with his endorsement for Mr. Hosokawa for the governor’s job — something that might just propel him to city hall in a Feb. 9 election.
The two septuagenarians, both known for their anti-nuclear views, are expected to stir up the gubernatorial race and bring the energy debate back into the national spotlight. That will likely dismay of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which would rather not have the divisive issue become an election focal point.
With the support of Mr. Koizumi — who still enjoys strong popularity after stepping down as prime minister in 2006 — Mr. Hosokawa hopes to replace disgraced Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, who quit last month over a money scandal.
“I’ve decided to declare my candidacy in the upcoming gubernatorial election,” Mr. Hosokawa said Tuesday after a lunch meeting with Mr. Koizumi at a Tokyo hotel. “I have a sense of crisis that our nation’s survival is at stake over nuclear power.”
Mr. Hosokawa is expected to hold a news conference in the coming days to lay out his campaign pledges.
The election comes at a critical time, as the national government prepares to finalize its outline of the nation’s long-term energy policy, planning to call for the restart of reactors once they are deemed safe under new regulations introduced in July. All 50 commercial reactors in Japan are currently offline following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The plan, however, is opposed by factions within the Liberal Democratic Party who are against nuclear power.
“This is a battle between the group that says Japan can develop without nuclear power, and the group that says it is necessary for growth,” the 72-year-old Mr. Koizumi told reporters, while standing alongside Mr. Hosokawa.
“The main reason I’ve decided to support Mr. Hosokawa is because Japan can develop without nuclear power.”
Until Mr. Hosokawa’s entry into the race, former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe seemed a shoo-in for the governor’s job, having the backing of Mr. Abe’s LDP.
On Tuesday, he characterized Mr. Koizumi’s views as simplistic.
“As Japan’s top consumer of energy, Tokyoites must not ignore the nuclear power debate,” Mr. Masuzoe said. “However, choosing the Tokyo governor based (solely) on whether they favor or oppose nuclear power seems odd.”
Mr. Masuzoe himself supports a gradual phase-out of nuclear power.
Despite strong public support for Mr. Abe, opinion is divided over nuclear energy. In a poll conducted Jan. 4 and 5 by Fuji Television, 56.9% of 1,000 respondents said they opposed restarting idle reactors, while 35.7% supported it.
Wary of the issue taking center stage in the governor’s race, the government and the LDP have tried instead to focus on healthcare and preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Mr. Hosokawa became prime minister in 1993 as head of an eight-party coalition after the long-ruling LDP lost its grip on power for the first time since being formed in 1955.
His tenure was short, however, and he resigned nine months later over a money scandal. His administration collapsed soon afterward. Mr. Hosokawa withdrew from politics in 1998 and devoted himself to his hobby, pottery. ”