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Anti-nuke power mayor recognized by Time magazine loses re-election

Outgoing Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai is seen in the city's Haramachi Ward, on Jan. 21, 2018, after losing the mayoral election. (Mainichi)

MINAMISOMA, Fukushima -- Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai, who was selected as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2011, was defeated by a former city hall division chief in the mayoral election here on Jan. 21.

Sakurai, 62, was hoping to secure a third term in office but was beaten by Kazuo Monma, 63, -- ex-senior manager of the Minamisoma Municipal Government's economy division, who was backed by municipal assembly members affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, among other supporters.

In the wake of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 -- which happened close to Minamisoma -- Sakurai slammed the central government's plans to resume operations at nuclear power plants, stating that he wanted to phase out such facilities.

Kazuo Monma, right, cheerfully holds bouquets with his wife Kazue after winning the mayoral election in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 21, 2018. (Mainichi)

Monma has been critical of the local government's response after the disaster, claiming that "the pace of recovery has been far too slow." He added that one of the reasons behind the sluggish moves has been Sakurai's timid approach in terms of collaborating with the central government and the ruling coalition. During the election campaign period, Monma appealed for creating policies based on dialogue with the state.

Meanwhile, Sakurai pledged to phase out nuclear power, but his opponent had the upper hand with stronger organizational support. Monma won more votes in what can be regarded as a protest against the current administration in Minamisoma.

In 2011, Sakurai was picked as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people after uploading a video showing disaster-hit Minamisoma and its lack of supplies on sites such as YouTube.

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