Independent vows effort for disaster-hit Iwate following election win

Former reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano vowed Monday to do his best to act as a bridge between the government and disaster-hit communities in Iwate Prefecture and promote rebuilding, after winning a third term there in the House of Councillors election the previous day.

Hirano beat Toshinobu Sekine, his rival candidate fielded by People's Life Party -- led by longtime power broker Ichiro Ozawa -- as well as Shinichi Tanaka, a newcomer in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that together with its coalition partner the New Komeito party won a comfortable majority in the election.

The victory for Hirano, who left the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan before the election, signals the waning clout of Ozawa, who traditionally has been viewed as having a strong power base in his native Iwate, political watchers say.

Of the 31 seats up for grabs in the single-seat constituencies, the LDP won all with the exception of Iwate and Okinawa.

"I am thinking how I can put into action all that I have said (during my election campaign)," Hirano told a news conference at his campaign headquarters in the Iwate city of Kitakami.

To draw voter support, Hirano capitalized on his achievements when he was in charge of overseeing work to rebuild the northeastern region under the previous government led by the DPJ. Iwate is one of the northeastern Japan prefectures hardest hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The DPJ was in power from 2009 through last December until it was overthrown by the LDP.

Hirano, 59, who won by about 80,000 votes against his second-placed LDP rival, had been a fellow lawmaker of Ozawa in the DPJ.

Ozawa left the DPJ before Hirano and created his own party.

All of his party's candidates fielded in five constituencies lost and the party also failed to secure seats under the nationwide party-list proportional representation system.

Referring to the "grim" election results for his party, Ozawa said at a news conference Sunday night, "We have no choice but to accept the voters' decision and simply continue with our (political) activities."