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Parties scrambling to field high-profile Tokyo gubernatorial candidates

With Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe set to resign, both ruling and opposition parties on June 15 began fielding candidates for the next gubernatorial election, but the situation remains mired in uncertainty.

In order to reach Tokyo's 11 million voters -- the most of any single prefecture in Japan -- a high profile is crucial. However, the several well-known people whose names have come up as possible candidates have already stated that they would not be running for the governor's seat. Among past gubernatorial races, the one in which Shintaro Ishihara jumped into the race at the last minute and won the election has left a lasting impression, and was characterized as an underhanded tactic to see what cards were on the table before making a move.

As the next gubernatorial election and the upcoming House of Councillors election will inevitably affect each other, various parties are expected to try keeping their rivals on their toes.

Because both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito backed Masuzoe in the last gubernatorial election, the two parties are wary about standing out in fielding a candidate in the upcoming race. "As party headquarters, we will fully respect the sentiments of Tokyo residents, and the intentions of the LDP's Tokyo prefectural chapter," LDP secretary-general Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters.

One name that came up at an early stage within the ruling coalition was Shun Sakurai, vice minister of internal affairs and communications, who is also the father of Sho Sakurai, a member of the popular boys' pop group, Arashi. Sakurai's tenure in his current position is set to end June 17, but on June 15, he told reporters that he had no plans to run in the gubernatorial race.

Other names that have come up among the ruling coalition include Nobuteru Ishihara, minister in charge of economic revitalization and the eldest son of former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara; former defense minister Yuriko Koike; and deputy chief Cabinet secretary Koichi Hagiuda. Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi hinted at hopes for a candidate backed by both ruling and opposition parties, telling reporters June 15, "We should not bring partisan conflicts from national politics (into the Tokyo governor's race)."

On the same day, the Tokyo chapter of the opposition Democratic Party (DP) held an executive meeting at a hotel near the Diet building. DP acting leader Renho is believed to be a front-runner for the gubernatorial election, but she is up for re-election in the upper house poll slated for July 10. If she were to secure a seat in the upper house Tokyo constituency, which has six seats up for grabs in the upcoming election, but then step down to run in the gubernatorial race, the DP would lose a seat in the Tokyo constituency. But if Renho were to run in the upper house election as a proportional-representation candidate and win a seat, if and when she does vacate that seat, it would automatically be filled by a fellow DP member on the party's proportional-representation candidate roster. Junior DP legislators are calling on Renho to run as a proportional-representation candidate to elevate the overall number of DP members elected under the proportional-representation system.

Meanwhile, Nobuyuki Baba, secretary-general of the party Initiatives from Osaka, commonly known as Osaka Ishin no Kai, told a press conference on June 15 that there was "20,000 percent no chance" of former Osaka Mayor and former Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto running for the position of Tokyo governor. "20,000 percent no chance" was an expression Hashimoto used to deny any intentions of running for the Osaka governor's post in 2008, which he eventually ran in and won, meaning Baba's use of the expression leaves room for Hashimoto to go either way.

However, when asked by reporters in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, on the evening of June 15, whether there was a possibility that he would run in the Tokyo gubernatorial election, Hashimoto told reporters, "No." When DP acting leader Akira Nagatsuma, from the Tokyo constituency, was asked at a press conference about the possibility of him running in the election, he said, "Saying '20,000 percent no chance' may invite misinterpretations, so I will say there is '100 percent no chance.'"

Some in the ruling coalition are pushing for the two parties to back DP lawmaker and former deputy defense minister, Akihisa Nagashima, in order to split up cooperation among the opposition parties.

The late Shunichi Suzuki, a former Ministry of Home Affairs bureaucrat who served as Tokyo governor for four terms -- or 16 years -- starting in 1979, was the last Tokyo governor who didn't have some sort of celebrity status prior to being elected. Since then, the Tokyo gubernatorial race has been characterized by some as a popularity contest. In 1995, television writer and personality Yukio Aoshima ran on an "anti-establishment" platform, beating out his rivals, including Nobuo Ishihara, a former deputy chief Cabinet secretary backed by the LDP.

Akutagawa literary prize winner Shintaro Ishihara -- the elder brother of the late popular actor Yujiro Ishihara -- became governor in 1999, and ended up staying in the position for 13 1/2 years until October 2012 before he returned to national politics. In 2012, author Naoki Inose, whose name was widely known due to his involvement in the privatization of public highway corporations under the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and who had the support of his predecessor, Ishihara, was elected governor with approximately 4.34 million votes -- the largest number of votes won in a Tokyo gubernatorial election. Masuzoe was also well known as a former health, labor, and welfare minister and a political scientist.

Inose resigned after it emerged that he had accepted 50 million yen from a healthcare corporation. In an unusual turn of events, Masuzoe will be the second consecutive Tokyo governor to resign in the midst of his first term due to a money scandal. A senior Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said, "Colorful governors elected for their popularity tend to have big egos, which is not a good thing in prefectural administration, which requires continuity."

The following are the names of those who have come up as possible candidates in the next Tokyo gubernatorial race.

Ruling parties:

Nobuteru Ishihara, minister in charge of economic revitalization

Koichi Hagiuda, deputy chief Cabinet secretary

Yuriko Koike, former defense minister

Opposition parties:

Renho, Democratic Party acting leader

Akihisa Nagashima, former deputy defense minister

Others:

Toru Hashimoto, former Osaka mayor

Hideo Higashikokubaru, former Miyazaki Prefecture governor

Shun Sakurai, vice minister of internal affairs and communications

Yoshihiro Katayama, former Tottori Prefecture governor

Kenji Utsunomiya, former chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations

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