Tuesday 16 April 2013

New Koriyama Mayor

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and spring is here. The light is bright and all of a sudden I need sunglasses. The air is warm and soothing. Things are looking up.

The election for Mayor of Koriyama was held on Sunday. It was the first election since the disaster and with a population of over 327,000, Koriyama is one of the largest cities in Fukushima. You'd think people would  be interested in deciding their future at this important juncture but the turnout was an abysmal 45%. Admittedly the two candidates were the same as last time so the campaign lacked freshness. And a lot of people are disillusioned with politics and think that it doesn't make any difference who the mayor is. But even within Fukushima prefecture turnout is low. Some people put it down to Koriyama being a city of outsiders (it's a relatively new city and developed with the railways) so people have no strong allegiances; and they're unwilling to get involved, preferring to stand on the sidelines and watch. Whatever the reasons, the outcome is that the new Mayor with 61,000 votes was voted in by only one in four of the electorate.

Masato Shinagawa (68) had a career in the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, an independent  candidate who pledged to do more for children and speed up the recovery. Hara Masao (69), backed by the LDP, asked the electorate to judge him on his two terms in office but decontamination of houses is behind schedule and people probably just wanted a change.

But that's not all. There's a rather unpleasant aspect to the campaign which I wouldn't have mentioned but it's been in the papers today so is in the public domain. About a month ago Shinagawa started using the phrase nigenai' 逃げない (meaning 'won't run away') on his posters, e-mails and campaign cars. He says it means that he won't shy away from taking tough decisions. But everyone knows it's a reference to the rumour that Hara was not in Koriyama at the time of the disaster. Hara himself said in his literature that he thinks this rumour started because there were no lights on in his house: it had been so badly damaged in the earthquake that he moved in with his daughter. He decided against responding to the accusations during the campaign but his sense of propriety may have lost him the vote. The whole incident doesn't reflect well on Koriyama. But it also highlights how touchy this issue is. Koriyama has quite high levels of radiation. People try not to show it but they've suffered a lot and there's still plenty to be worried about. Even a hint of betrayal in a leader is inexcusable.

So the new Mayor takes office in a couple of weeks. He's an ideas man. He says he wants to re-think the way decontamination is done. He wants to set up storage sites for the waste (at the moment all the waste is stored on site, i.e. they dig a hole in your garden to dump the stuff). He wants more nurseries close to where people work and he wants them to be free. He wants Koriyama to be a convention city, a musical centre, a focus for inward investment (including companies from overseas). He wants the city to grow to 500,000 people. As I say, lots of good ideas. Let's hope he can deliver.
Bye for now

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