Unified elections 2007: Not all is lost



This is the third in a series on local elections to be held Sunday.

photoTokyo gubernatorial election candidate Koichi Toyama urges a crowd in front of Koenji Station to topple the government.(Kim Han Il)

They're going to lose, but they're running anyway.

One candidate is a self-professed anarchist. Another is a masked wrestler whose main platform is to promote horse racing.

Throw into this mix a professional soothsayer and these three individuals all represent fringe candidates competing in Sunday's gubernatorial elections.

What these unique campaigners have in common, aside from the fact that none of the candidates seriously expects to win, is that they believe they are sending a strong message to voters and society at large.

A cynic might counter that they are just seeking their 15 minutes of fame after having paid the mandatory deposit of 3 million yen to run in the election. If a candidate fails to garner at least 10 percent of total votes, the money goes to the local government's coffers.

Kumiko Uchikawa, 49, is the only woman among 13 candidates hoping to defeat Shintaro Ishihara in his quest for a third term as Tokyo governor.

Her specialty is foretelling the future through geomancy, which can involve drawing lines at random or crystal ball-gazing by throwing handfuls of dirt to the ground.

Koichi Toyama, 36, who is also running against Ishihara, is calling on voters to stage a revolt against the government--but only after they have had their fill of beer.

In Iwate Prefecture, professional wrestler the "Great Sasuke," who is never seen without his trademark face mask, is trying to get the opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) to drop its plan to abolish horse racing if the candidate it backs wins on Sunday. Sasuke's chances of victory would appear to be nil.

As for Uchikawa, she's running what she calls a "hand-made" election campaign.

"Some of my friends help by displaying my poster near their homes, but basically I'm doing everything myself," she said.

With her election kit--a microphone, a sash with her name on it and a stepstool, Uchikawa uses trains and subways around Tokyo to promote her cause.

"I wouldn't have bothered if more women had run or if a male candidate had pledged to appoint women to high positions," she said.

"Since none of the candidates has taken the women's point of view, I felt it was up to me to do something."

Two days before campaigning officially got under way, Uchikawa paid her 3 million yen deposit.

She runs a Web site under the name of Aya Uchikawa, which got more than 120,000 hits last year. Uchikawa, who had published more than 20 books on such esoteric themes as naming a baby and colors that bring happiness, claims to have predicted the resignation of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa in 1994 and the subsequent inauguration of the administration headed by Tomiichi Murayama.

"There are roughly an equal number of men and women in Japan," she said. "But in the Japanese political scene, women are not given many opportunities. I want to correct that imbalance.

"In my opinion, women should account for at least 30 percent of seats in the Diet and local assemblies."

Toyama, the Kyushu-based activist who calls himself a fascist, set up "shop"--a cardboard box on which to sit--in front of Tokyo's Koenji Station one recent evening. He also had several cans of beer in a plastic bag.

Addressing 20 or so passersby, Toyama said: "Let's start the drinking session as usual. But under the election law, I'm afraid I can't treat you. Please buy alcoholic drinks yourselves at a kiosk or a convenience store nearby."

Toyama has followed the same routine since the campaign kicked off on March 22.

He tells his audience he doesn't care much about the election outcome and that he will watch the results on TV before leaving Monday for his native Kyushu.

Meantime, he exhorts his audience to work to "topple the government." He also calls on like-minded people to recruit others who are willing to stage a revolt against the government.

In Tokyo, an inventor, a taxi driver, a fortuneteller, a former police officer and an entertainer are also running.

Finally, there is the "Great Sasuke," who is 37. Although he is closely allied to Minshuto, he takes issue with the party's stance on wanting to disband the heavily indebted Iwate horse racing association if Takuya Tasso, 42, a former Minshuto Lower House member, wins the gubernatorial race as expected.

He says the prefectural government is obliged to help bail out the association.

"Frankly, I had opposed his candidacy," said Hideo Arai, president of the production company to which Sasuke belongs. "But I couldn't do anything because he is so stubborn. Even though he doesn't stand a chance of winning, we'll do our best."

Sasuke's election staff numbers just 10 people. "We're desperately short of manpower in trying to run a campaign across Iwate Prefecture," Arai said. "Still, he's very popular with voters in their 20s and 30s."

Sasuke won an assembly seat in 2003 by attracting swing voters who admired his pluck in refusing to take off his face mask when attending assembly meetings.

"If by some lucky fluke, he does win, I'll make him take off his mask," Arai said. "He'll have no time to wrestle if he becomes governor."(IHT/Asahi: April 5,2007)

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