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Election of First Female Governor Boosts Japan's Ruling Party

By Kathryn Tolbert
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 8, 2000; Page A24

TOKYO, Feb. 7—Fusae Ota's election in Osaka as Japan's first female governor was being viewed today as a welcome boost to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and Japan's governing three-party coalition.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partners supported Ota's candidacy--over the objections of the party's Osaka chapter--in the closely watched vote Sunday. She was a longtime bureaucrat in Tokyo who had not run for political office before.

"She's a bureaucrat, but being a woman, the smell of bureaucracy was less strong," said Takayoshi Miyagawa, a political commentator and consultant. "Plus, after the sexual harassment scandal, she is regarded as remote from sexual harassment."

Osaka's former governor, Knock Yokoyama, resigned in December as he was about to be prosecuted on charges of groping a female campaign worker.

Editorials and analysts noted today that what people in Osaka really wanted was leadership to rescue Japan's second-largest city from the effects of the recession and to deal with the budget deficit.

"The unemployment rate in Osaka is 2 percent higher than in other big cities and it has other problems typical of big cities," said Tatsuhiro Tokuda of the Kansai Economic Federation. "We count on her to show her balanced administrative ability in coping with all these problems."

The ruling party was split over Ota, with the Osaka chapter reportedly complaining that it was not consulted before she was picked to run.

The Osaka branch preferred Tatsuto Hiraoka, 59, the director of a local private school group, who came in third. Makoto Ajisaka, 66, a professor at Kansai Unversity, who was supported by the Communist Party, was second with a little more than 1 million votes, trailing Ota's 1.38 million.

Obuchi must call a general election by October, and the victories of LDP-backed candidates in Osaka and Kyoto on Sunday appear to give him firm control of the timing.

The Sankei Shimbun newspaper pointed out that triumphs in regional elections have not always translated into national victories.

The opposition parties have boycotted Japan's parliament, the Diet, since late January to protest the LDP's pushing through a bill to cut the number of seats.

Ota, 48, who joined the Ministry of International Trade and Industry immediately after graduating from Tokyo University with a degree in economics, has lived mostly in Tokyo, a point her opponents attacked during the campaign. She said that she has lived in Osaka in recent years with her husband, who works for a lens manufacturer, and, while working in Tokyo, returned to Osaka every weekend. She spent two years as deputy governor of the southern prefecture of Okayama, an appointed position.

Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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