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Japan Political Pulse: An unwanted gubernatorial election in Tokyo

Three Tokyo gubernatorial elections in four years -- that's too many.

    Isn't it about time for us to change how our system deals with vacant posts and have the vice governor promoted to governor to fill out the remainder of the departing governor's term? Administrative reform minister Taro Kono, 53, made this suggestion during a news conference on June 14. Keio University professor Yoshihiro Katayama, 64, a former minister of internal affairs and communications and a former governor of Tottori Prefecture, took the same view when appearing in a weekend television program.

    The Local Autonomy Act would have to be revised for this to happen, and there isn't time to do that on this occasion. Still, prioritizing practicality over voting is indeed a fresh proposal for Tokyo residents who are now being called on to enter a popularity vote fought over a short period for the third time.

    The idea espoused by Kono and Katayama draws upon the way the United States' presidential elections are held. It would involve a candidate who is running for governor naming a candidate for vice-governor in advance. They would then go into the election together. In other words, the gubernatorial candidate would have a running mate.

    In the United States, Lyndon Johnson rose to the position of president without a vote after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, as did Gerald Ford following the resignation of Richard Nixon.

    In Japan, Article 93 of the Constitution states, "The chief executive officers of all local public entities, the members of their assemblies, and such other local officials as may be determined by law shall be elected by direct popular vote within their several communities."

    Article 152 of Japan's Local Autonomy Act, meanwhile, states that if the governor's position becomes vacant, then a vice governor is to take over the governor's duties. But this is just an emergency measure. New governors that have not been elected are not accepted. Some have pointed out that to change the current mechanism it would be necessary to revise related laws as well as the Constitution. But Katayama maintains, "Official duties by proxy are accepted, so with a bit of effort I think you could clear the constitutional hurdle.

    Even now, political forces field vice governors, and if they win in an election, they can become governor. But this is difficult. Starting with Yukio Aoshima in 1995, the conditions for being a candidate for governor have leaned toward name recognition and likability. Before that, bureaucrats and scholars were the favorites.

    Previously, political parties and supporting organizations such as company and labor unions maintained political principles with the Cold War as a backdrop. They also possessed solidarity. And even candidates who were unheard of were elected.

    Now things are different. In the post-Cold War era, support organizations are weaker, and political parties have lost strength. The media environment, too, has seen a sea change: The influence of television has increased, and images have emerged as a standard. The spread of the internet is unceasing, and people's statements and responses are questioned. Public opinion polls are persistent, creating an age in which popular figures are raised up, only to be cut down.

    Two-and-a-half years ago, Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe, 67, was a popular politician. He was supported as an able figure in the fields of diplomacy, security and social security. When the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, Masuzoe left the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The reason that the LDP still supported him in the gubernatorial election was probably because he had a great deal of public support.

    Candidates who seek to replace outgoing Gov. Masuzoe now must be famous. Katayama is a famous figure, so I put the question to him:

    "Do you plan on running?

    The professor answered with a chuckle.

    "There's no one who could organize themselves in such a short time, grasp the issues, and narrow down their policies to enter the race. No one can enter, unless of course it's someone who doesn't think about policy seriously."

    I take his answer as a declaration he will not run.

    The preposterousness of holding an election to fill the place of somebody who has suddenly stepped down is not limited to Tokyo.

    Official campaigning for the Tokyo gubernatorial election will begin on July 14 and the election will be held on July 31. It is said the election will cost 5 billion yen. I hope this unwanted election will serve as a lesson leading to reform of the system. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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