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Japan Political Pulse: Who's the real deal among Tokyo governor election candidates?

The Tokyo gubernatorial election is approaching on July 31, but we have seen no debate about policies.

The main topics of interest have been the never-ending opinion polls, political parties' hunt for a promising candidate, and a weekly magazine's revelations about prominent candidates.

What is Tokyo? What is the Tokyo governor and what is autonomy? How should political parties be involved? In this final stage of the race, as people have lost sight of the basics, what could one cite as a vital point to determine who is a real deal governor?

I put this last question to Keio University professor Yoshihiro Katayama, 64, a former minister of internal affairs and communications and a former governor of Tottori Prefecture who was tapped as a potential candidate himself up until the last minute, though in the end he didn't run.

"It probably comes down to whether they've got the nerve for the job," he said.

Tokyo is big. Its population of 13.61 million residents surpasses the respective populations of Portugal, Greece and Sweden. Its gross domestic product share of 94 trillion yen is more than that of the entire country of Indonesia, and around the same level as that of South Korea and Mexico.

But don't flatter Tokyo as being big or grand, Katayama cautions. Though a local body may be huge, in the end it is still a local body. Its main job is not showy gubernatorial diplomacy or handling events like the Olympic Games -- it should, at the end of the day, be an organization run with priority on the convenience of residents.

A fundamental characteristic of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is that it handles waterworks and firefighting-related jobs for the capital's 23 special wards -- tasks handed down from Tokyo City, which was disestablished in 1943. In other words, the metropolitan government has direct control over localized tasks that in other prefectures are handled by local cities.

The metropolitan government is accordingly a huge body, having some 170,000 workers. The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, which has the task of performing checks on this body, is also huge. Residents of Tokyo have no opportunities to get a sense of control of the metropolitan government through participation in local politics. Statesmen exist in a place far away, and there is a tendency for gubernatorial elections to become a popularity vote without question of political policies.

The way political parties get involved is also unsatisfactory.

There is a rule that a candidate backed by a political party is assured of victory, but there is no evidence the parties are inspecting the policies that determine the courses of action the candidates will take.

The Tokyo chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on July 11 informed party members that they would be expelled if they or their family members supported a candidate who was not backed by the LDP. When I talked to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose son Shinjiro Koizumi is a member of the LDP in the House of Representatives, he had the following to say:

"What do they mean by that? If I backed Ms. (Yuriko) Koike, would they expel Shinjiro? I'm surprised. They have no liberty or democracy."

At the same time, the meandering by the opposition parties in their search for a promising candidate was miserable.

In the past, political parties existed based on principles and economic interests shared with supporting organizations. Now, however, the objective seems to be winning the election to show off one's power.

How, then, can we see through to the true character of the candidates? I asked Katayama this and he calmly replied, "You just need to look at their motivation for running and the connection with their policies. If they engage in debate you'll understand."

Katayama was originally scheduled to question candidates in a debate on the Fuji TV program "Shinhodo 2001" on July 17. The event was cancelled as 76-year-old candidate Shuntaro Torigoe was not participating. But some of the questions he had planned to ask were divulged. They went as follows:

To Mr. Torigoe: "You say your desire to reverse a swing to the right was your cue to enter the race, but what, in concrete terms, can you do in the metropolitan government?"

To Mr. Hiroya Masuda: "You said you want to reform the metropolitan government, but are you able to carry out reform by standing on the shoulders of established forces?"

To Ms. Koike: "You say you want to get rid of packed trains, but what is your motivation for doing so? Have you ever used a packed train?"

There remains just under a week until the election. Who is the real deal, I wonder. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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