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Tokyo readies for governor vote in nuclear test

TOKYO -- Some of the 13 million people who live in Tokyo go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new governor in a vote being closely watched as a popular verdict on the use of nuclear power.

A crowded field of 16 men have fought an uninspiring two-week campaign to become chief executive of one of the world's biggest cities, with commentators saying it is largely a two-horse race.

Newspaper surveys suggest one-time television presenter and former cabinet minister Yoichi Masuzoe has a commanding lead, despite his alignment with the government on the need to restart Japan's idled nuclear reactors.

The Japanese public has become increasingly skeptical of the once-trusted technology since the tsunami-sparked disaster at Fukushima in March 2011.

Separate polls by the Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun have found 65-year-old Masuzoe with a comfortable lead over his closest rival, former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, 76 and renowned lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, 67.

Both men have campaigned on an anti-nuclear platform and a win by Hosokawa, who has the backing of popular former premier Junichiro Koizumi, would create friction for the national government in its eventual aim to get nuclear reactors working again.

The Tokyo governor has no direct power to change national energy policy, but the verdict of the inhabitants of the political, economic and cultural capital of the country would be difficult to ignore.

Most Japanese voters are against nuclear power but the issue did not materialize in the national polls of December 2012 that swept pro-nuclear Shinzo Abe into the prime minister's office, with his opponents' apparent haplessness neutralizing their anti-nuclear stance.

Observers of the Tokyo political scene welcomed the emergence of Hosokawa as a candidate for the governorship, hoping that an erstwhile political heavyweight would add some gravitas to the poll.

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