Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe made a dramatic turnaround and decided to resign over his political funds scandal on the night of June 14, after previously refusing to do so despite mounting calls for him to step down.
Shortly past 10 p.m. on June 14, Gov. Masuzoe got into an official car parked in front of the main entrance to the Main Building No. 1 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government hall after emerging from his office. The sight of the vehicle leaving the hall was being televised live. A mere two minutes later, the car returned to the entrance, from which Masuzoe emerged and headed back to his office.
What apparently happened was he was called back by Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly President Shigeo Kawai and other officials. Inside the governor's office, Masuzoe met officials including Shigeru Uchida, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Tokyo chapter and a heavyweight in the LDP caucus in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.
"I want to place importance on metropolitan administration," Masuzoe said, reiterating his previous statements. In response, Uchida told the governor, "I wish I could fulfill your desire to stay in office until after the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and Paralympics. But we can't gain a general consensus, including that from LDP headquarters."
That was the ultimatum for Masuzoe from a high-ranking official of the LDP's Tokyo chapter.
"OK, I will resign," Masuzoe said, and left the metropolitan government building shortly before 11 p.m.
A day earlier, Masuzoe had pleaded for mercy before the metropolitan assembly's general affairs committee, saying, "If a no-confidence motion against me is passed, I would be pressed to choose between stepping down or dissolving the metropolitan assembly for an election. In that case, the election will coincide with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and Paralympics, adversely affecting the 2020 Tokyo Games" -- urging that the submission of a no-confidence motion be pushed back until after the Rio Games.
According to sources close to the LDP Tokyo chapter, Uchida was trying to defend Masuzoe through to the end, despite their once strained relations over the cancellation last year of an original plan for the construction of the new national stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo Games. In recent months, the two were closely coordinating with each other in responding to the governor's scandal.
With the House of Councillors election looming next month, however, the LDP needed to quell growing public criticism against Masuzoe that was also being directed at the LDP and Komeito, the ruling parties in the metropolitan assembly. During an intensive deliberation of the assembly on June 13, Komeito openly demanded Masuzoe to step down and decided to submit a no-confidence motion against him, urging the LDP to follow suit. Concerns over Masuzoe's scandal negatively impacting the ruling parties in the upper house race were also raised in LDP chapters in other prefectures.
Diet legislators were also stepping up their pressure on the metropolitan assembly to oust Masuzoe, saying the public would not tolerate his scandal. This prompted the LDP caucus in the metro assembly to conclude that Masuzoe had no choice but to leave office.
"Mr. Uchida worked so hard. But they couldn't persuade party headquarters," a senior Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said.
Masuzoe's decision to step down was passed on to LDP assembly members who were in a waiting room, sparking a sense of relief among them. Yet senior officials of the LDP caucus in the assembly, including secretary-general Satoshi Udagawa, were preparing to submit a no-confidence motion against the governor. "Unless we look to file a no-confidence motion, public criticism would be directed at the LDP faction," an insider source said.
"We were thinking really hard. I wished we could have worked it out in the end," Uchida recalled when asked what he felt about Masuzoe's submission of his resignation, prior to a plenary session of the metropolitan assembly on June 15. By managing to draw a curtain on the drama, he was apparently expecting to mend the gulf that had emerged within the LDP.