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Nobuo Sasaki

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Appointment of the New Governor

Nobuo Sasaki
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Political Science

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Yoichi Masuzoe became the newly elected governor of Tokyo, winning over the other 15 candidates fighting for the gubernatorial election, putting an end to the vacant administration that lasted for almost two months.

Masuzoe will immediately start tackling the city’s massive 13 trillion yen budget planning in preparation for the budgetary assembly held in mid-February. The Organizing Committee of Olympic Games will also shift into full swing. Here is a reflection of the all-out battle for the capital following Inose’s resignation.

Ishihara’s selfishness and major miscalculation

When there was no election on the horizon, the political world seemed to be in a truce. In complete contrast to this, a battle for the capital has been raging since the start of the New Year. A fierce struggle for the Tokyo governor’s chair is currently underway, but we have an abnormal situation in which there will have been three changes in Tokyo governor within two years and ten months. In national politics, up until the year before last, prime ministers were replaced with alarming regularity, seven in as many years, but is the same thing now happening in the metropolitan government? In each Tokyo gubernatorial election, five billion yen of public funds are spent in just over a fortnight. Three times this amount adds up to the annual budget of a municipality. Is it worth spending so much on choosing a Tokyo governor? And will someone suitable for the position actually be chosen? Though democracy comes at a cost, some of this cost remains unaccounted for.

In October 2012, with two and a half years of his term as governor remaining, Shintaro Ishihara (title is omitted hereafter) selfishly resigned from his position. His behavior when leaving the metropolitan government even extended to nominating Naoki Inose as his successor, saying, “He is suitable.” Already vice governor, Inose took over as governor with an unprecedented 4,330,000 votes. Dutifully obeying Ishihara’s request not to extinguish the torch of the bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Inose won the bid in September last year. But that was virtually the end of his administration. Soon after, the metropolitan government became embroiled in debate over a 50 million yen cash donation that Inose had received from the Tokushukai hospital group. Unable to dispel suspicion that he had violated public service rules and Public Offices Election Law, he resigned just one year after being elected. The incident has left an indelible stain on the history of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (Fig.1).

Fig.1 List of post-war Tokyo governors

Ishihara has tried to make a comeback in national politics with a valiant call to “defeat the central government bureaucrats, the root of all evil!” but remains unnoticed. Leaving that aside, how do Tokyo’s residents view their metropolitan government, which has been messed about by Ishihara’s continuous one-man show?

The first all-out Tokyo gubernatorial election for many years

The above is the background to the Tokyo gubernatorial election, and polling day, February 9, is nearly upon us. Amid some unusual developments including a previous prime minister standing as one of the 16 candidates, a spirited debate is expected on how metropolitan Tokyo should be run as the country moves into an era of unprecedented super-aging and population decline. The latter part of the election campaign has turned into a straight fight between Morihiro Hosokawa and Yoichi Masuzoe, or the alliance of Hosokawa and former Prime Minister Koizumi versus Masuzoe and the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition.

This will be the eighth Tokyo governor to be elected since World War Two, but in the past the Tokyo gubernatorial election was always held in April, with the exception of 2012 when it was run jointly with the lower house election. This time, however, only the Tokyo governor will be elected. It is a single, head-on election without any succession of, or departure from, this or that governorship. So what will the rate of voter turnout be? In past elections to replace a governor it has generally been around 55%, but could it be significantly less this time? Unusually, politicians in the ruling parties have aligned themselves fully with specific candidates, perhaps resulting from the confidence of their forces’ undistorted national government which, for the first time in years, holds a majority of seats in both chambers of the diet. But just looking at the data, all party affiliated candidates during the 30 or more years since Shunichi Suzuki was first elected have been defeated. And there are no examples of success among those with experience as governor of another prefecture. Can this jinx be broken? Attention is on the decision of the 40 or 50 percent of Tokyo’s electorate that has no party affiliation.

The four issues being contested by the candidates are social security, disaster prevention, the Olympics, and the pros and cons of nuclear power. The election is asking serious questions about the way forward for metropolitan Tokyo in terms of its economy, daily life, international relations, and so on, but the debates are not engaging. Tokyo is like a crucible of Japanese prosperity with its excess concentration of population and industry, but if we think about it more, it has the fragility of a house of cards without the ability to supply its own water, electricity or food. There is even a fear that Tokyo could be wiped out by an earthquake occurring directly beneath it. Super-aging society and declining birth rate are swelling demand for medicine, welfare, nursing care for the elderly and children, and massive investment is needed to upgrade social infrastructure such as deteriorating roads, bridges, water and sewage systems, and schools. The 2020 Olympics are also coming to Tokyo for the first time in half a century, and there is some dispute as to how they should be organized. Under ordinary circumstances, the above issues are also to be compounded by the financial problems.

Is nuclear power the issue of the gubernatorial election?

Of these issues, the one with the most split views is nuclear power. One view is that nuclear and energy policy is national policy and therefore not linked to the Tokyo gubernatorial election. But is that really the case? Looking at the supply side, it is undoubtedly the national government that has authority over the power companies, the locating of nuclear power stations, and whether or not to operate them, and these are part of national policy. But what if we look at the consumption side? Can we look away from the problem of nuclear power in the election of a governor of metropolitan Tokyo when it is the largest power-consuming region in the world? Having experienced the 3.11 disaster and understanding the seriousness of the resulting radioactive contamination and damage, the huge expense of decommissioning and shutting down nuclear reactors, and the excessive time and cost of decommissioning that will be passed on to our children and grandchildren over 50 or 100 years from now, ordinary citizens have grave concerns.

What is the real role of politics? Is it not to ascertain the course of a country, large city or provincial city from a long-term perspective, to ensure a safe, secure and comfortable living for their residents and to protect their lives and property?

The Abe administration was poised to restart Japan’s nuclear power plants and speed up the export of nuclear power technology, but the alliance of former prime ministers calls for a switch to natural and regenerated energy and tries to hamper the administration. Another candidate, Kenji Utsunomiya, former President of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, is taking the same anti-nuclear line. How will the electorate, which makes up ten percent of Japan’s population, respond to this dispute about the running of their metropolis? The eyes of the nation, and indeed of the rest of the world, are on Tokyo.

Fig.2 Pendulum principle of metropolitan government

It is the fate of Tokyo gubernatorial elections in any era that subjects directly connected to national politics are turned into points of contention. The history of the metropolitan government shows that each time a Tokyo governor is replaced there is swing between right and left, between a hard and soft emphasis, between prioritizing the economy and prioritizing people’s daily lives (Fig.2). With the demise of the Ishihara administration and its hard emphasis and prioritization of the economy, what is needed now, as far as I can see, is a shift to a softer administration that prioritizes people’s lives. Medicine, welfare, nursing care for the elderly and raising children, the nuclear power issue, renewal of infrastructure, disaster prevention measures, planning the Olympics: these can all be viewed from such a perspective. Doing so should enable us to find out which governor candidate would be most suitable for the era.

A presidential-style city governor, directly elected by 13 million people and heading a 13 trillion yen organization of 160,000 bureaucrats under a sole responsibility system, seems stronger in terms of authority than a prime minister representing a Cabinet under a collegial system. Who would be the most suitable governor of Tokyo, creating a ripple effect on the policies of the whole nation, influencing national government, heading the city’s international diplomacy, and becoming the face of Japan as well? Who can satisfy the three requirements of politician, manager and diplomat? The people need to make a wise decision.

Nobuo Sasaki
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Political Science
The author was born in 1948. He earned a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University and a doctorate in law from Keio University. After serving in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, he became a professor at Seigakuin University in 1989 and a professor at Chuo University in 1994. In 2000 he served as a visiting research fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and from 2001 as a professor in both the Graduate School of Economics and Faculty of Economics at Chuo University. His specialties are political science and regional government theory. He concurrently serves as a member (for political science) of the Science Council of Japan, special advisor to Osaka City and Osaka Prefectural Government, and a member of the expert commission of the Suprapartisan Diet Committee for a Regional System. His recent publications include: The Governor of Tokyo – Power and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government [Tochiji – Kenryoku to Tosei] (Chuko Shinsho), The New Shape of Japan [Aratana “Nihon no Katachi”] (Kadokawa SSC Shinsho), Local Assembly Members [Chihou Giin] (PHP Shinsho), Big City Administration and Governance [Daitoshi Gyousei to Gabanansu] (Chuo University Press), Public Administration in Japan [Nihon Gyousei Gaku] and Modern Municipal Government [Gendai Chihou Jichi] (Gakuyo Shobo), among others. He received the NHK Local Broadcast Cultural Award. He appears as a commentator on NHK’s Shiten Ronten television program and Tokyo MX’s television news, provides commentary for newspapers and magazines, and gives frequent lectures throughout Japan.