Former Fukushima vice-governor Masao Uchibori wins gubernatorial race

TOKYO - A local veteran politician backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has on Sunday emerged victorious in the gubernatorial race of Fukushima, home to a stricken nuclear plant, according to national broadcaster NHK.

It is the first such election in the prefecture after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed large parts of northern Japan including Fukushima and knocked out one of its two nuclear power plants.

The election result is seen as a barometer of public opinion on Mr Abe's unpopular drive to restart Japan's 48 remaining nuclear reactors, all idled after the 2011 disaster.

The newly elected governor, Mr Masao Uchibori, a former vice-governor of Fukushima who ran as an independent is unofficially backed by Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

According to NHK's exit poll that covered 2,600 voters across the prefecture, Mr Uchibori won with a significant lead over the other five candidates, who include a medical doctor, a former mayor and a convenience store manager, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Fukushima election comes just as the Abe government is trying to restart the Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima prefecture in southern Japan.

The election is therefore being closely watched to see where the new governor stands on the Sendai issue, which would reflect the voters' view.