TOKYO — Tokyo voters chose the governing party candidate to be their next governor Sunday, rejecting a former prime minister who had tried to turn the local election into a public referendum on the future of nuclear energy in Japan.
The victor, Yoichi Masuzoe, a former television commentator and health minister, ran a campaign that focused on local concerns like improving day care and completing preparations to host the 2020 Olympic Games, and gave little if any attention to national issues like nuclear power.
He finished first in a field of 16 candidates, including Morihiro Hosokawa, a retired prime minister who had sought to rally voters who were worried about the safety of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster.
Hosokawa, 76, was backed by another retired prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who remains popular.
The two men waged a single-issue campaign aimed at the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has called for restarting Japan’s idled nuclear plants as a source of low-cost power for economic growth. Hosokawa called for Tokyo to permanently forswear the use of atomically generated electricity.
At first, his decision last month to put aside a retirement spent making pottery to run for office again generated a wave of public excitement. Many analysts saw his campaign as the first real chance to put the nuclear question directly to a large number of voters.
Victories by the governing Liberal Democratic Party in two national elections after the accident are widely regarded as reflecting voters’ dissatisfaction with a previous opposition-party government, and not a conclusive show of support for Abe’s nuclear policies.
Analysts said Sunday that Hosokawa’s defeat was probably less a rejection of his anti-nuclear message than of his focus on a distant, somewhat abstract national issue in a local election.
“Tokyo’s voters ended up feeling cool toward the idea of using the governor’s election as a referendum on nuclear power,” said Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political expert at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo. “They felt suspicious that candidates were trying to whip them up with simple-minded populist appeals.”
Some voters said they felt sympathetic to Hosokawa, but not enough to vote for him.
“I understand the antinuclear feelings, but the Tokyo governor should not be involved in all that,” said Manabu Odagiri, 62, who also voted for Masuzoe. “Mr. Hosokawa’s effort to turn this into an election over national issues was not realistic.”