The nine-day campaign period for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election kicked off on June 23. Attention is focused on whether Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites first association), a regional political party led by Gov. Yuriko Koike, will emerge as the No. 1 bloc in the capital's legislature by winning more seats than the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and whether Tomin First and its allies will secure a majority in the assembly.
Even though it is a local election, the outcome of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race reflects the public opinion of a capital with more than 10 million voters, and in the past it has been a leading indicator for subsequent Diet elections.
In the 2009 metro assembly race, the then Democratic Party of Japan scored an overwhelming victory. It went on to win the House of Representatives general election later that year and took over the reins of government. Then in 2013, the LDP, which performed powerfully in the metropolitan assembly election, took advantage of its momentum to win a subsequent House of Councillors election, bolstering its longstanding rule of the central government.
As campaigning for the July 2 Tokyo election gets underway, the approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet have plummeted, largely due to Prime Minister Abe's alleged role in the government's approval of a plan by a school corporation run by a friend of his to establish a veterinary school in Ehime Prefecture. Tokyo voters are likely to take their evaluations of the Abe government into consideration in deciding which party or candidate they will vote for. Political parties are therefore waging a fierce battle with an eye to winning the next lower house election that must be called by the end of next year.
The key point of contention is how to evaluate achievements made by the metropolitan government led by Gov. Koike. The metropolitan government has announced that the Tsukiji wholesale market will be relocated to the Toyosu district of the capital in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Tsukiji site. The management of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is also a matter of deep concern for Tokyo residents.
Voters in the capital also scrutinize policy measures closely related to their livelihoods. Worrisome is the fact that political parties have not necessarily placed high priority on countermeasures against the rapid aging of the population.
The number of senior Tokyo residents aged 75 or over is estimated to reach 2 million by 2025. It is an urgent task for the metropolitan government to cooperate with neighboring prefectures in implementing concrete measures to ensure that elderly people who need nursing care can receive such services.
The metropolitan government should also swiftly expand measures to extend assistance for childrearing. More than 8,000 Tokyo children were on day care waiting lists as of April 2016, accounting for more than 30 percent of the number of such children nationwide. The metropolitan government must put an end to the current situation in which an increase in the demand for day care facilities is outpacing the increase in their capacity.
Tokyo, which is the capital of Japan, should take the initiative in solving problems involving the declining birth rate and the aging of the population since it is a challenge the entire nation faces.
The metropolitan assembly has thus far failed to sufficiently check policy measures implemented by the metropolitan government. The highly questionable process of deciding to relocate the Tsukiji market to Toyosu should not be considered separately from policy measures during the 13 1/2 year rule of the metropolitan government by former Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
Most of the political parties that have fielded candidates in the metropolitan assembly election are calling for reform of the metropolitan government and legislature. Such efforts should help ensure transparency in metropolitan government administration.
Tokyo voters wonder how they should select representatives of their local communities from diverse viewpoints. During metropolitan assembly sessions, questions have been raised over the way funds set aside to cover assembly members' political activities are being used, as well as over indecent jeering, among other matters.
Judging from Diet members' repeated wrongdoings in the past, it is important to bear in mind that the most important voting criterion is the personality of the candidates.