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Ousted Reformer Sweeps Back in Japan Election

Governorship: Easy win by Yasuo Tanaka deals blow to assembly that kicked him out of office.

September 02, 2002|VALERIE REITMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — Ousted Gov. Yasuo Tanaka won his job back Sunday in a landslide victory in Nagano prefecture, sending a message to political opponents that residents of the central district want to limit public works spending, the lifeblood of many Japanese communities.

In an election widely watched in Japan and abroad, the reform-minded Tanaka handily defeated five challengers to regain the clear-glass governor's office he built at prefectural headquarters after his election in 2000. The transparent walls were his metaphor for the open government he wanted to create.

But Tanaka lasted only 20 months before the local assembly overwhelmingly voted "no confidence," kicking him out of office in July. The 46-year-old Tanaka, a well-known author and playboy, had little managerial experience, and his autocratic style didn't sit well with the assembly in this consensus-oriented nation.

Playing host to the 1998 Winter Olympics left the mountainous prefecture staggering under a huge debt. Tanaka maintains that additional projects such as unnecessary dams are compounding that burden and compromising the future of the nation as well as the prefecture. Earlier this year, he canceled two previously authorized dam projects in Nagano, throwing the local assembly into a tizzy and leading directly to his ouster.

But whether the five dozen members of the assembly will accept the voters' mandate to work with Tanaka is not yet clear. If they balk, it may simply mean more political gridlock or even another no-confidence vote. The assembly members do not face election again until the spring.

Tamotsu Shimozaki, leader of the assembly's largest faction, told reporters Sunday that he hoped "Tanaka will prefer fair prefectural politics through dialogue."

Minoru Morita, a well-known political commentator, said Tanaka's "energy and wisdom convinced the people in Nagano that he's reliable."

"He overpowered the assembly" by winning the election, Morita said in a television interview. "The situation is the same as before the no-confidence vote, but what's different is the assembly has lost its power now."

In an acceptance speech Sunday night, Tanaka vowed to continue administrative reforms.

"Today marks a major step to change Japan," he said.

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