Editorial: Political parties' presence appears weak in Tokyo gubernatorial race

The presence of political parties appears weak in the upcoming Tokyo gubernatorial election that has been called to pick a successor to former Gov. Naoki Inose, who stepped down in December last year over a money scandal.

Kenji Utsunomiya, former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations was the first to announce his candidacy, followed by Toshio Tamogami, former chief of staff at the Air Self-Defense Force. Former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe is set to officially affirm his candidacy in the race.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner New Komeito will support Masuzoe, while the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) may also back him. The Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party have decided to support Utsunomiya.

The LDP, which has an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives and regained a majority in the House of Councillors along with the New Komeito party following last July's election, chose to back Masuzoe because it places priority on winning the race by all means.

The campaign for the gubernatorial election kicks off on Jan. 23 and voters will go to the polls on Feb. 9. Vote counting will begin immediately after polling stations are closed. Twenty days have passed since Inose announced that he would resign, but political parties had failed to find any candidates to field by the end of last year. The decision to call the election came suddenly and none of the political parties had any hopeful candidates in mind. As such, political parties rather took a wait-and-see attitude because they thought that rival candidates with high name recognition would declare their candidacies shortly before the beginning of the campaign period.

Since writer Yukio Aoshima was elected governor in 1995 without the backing of any political party, candidates have been unable to win a Tokyo gubernatorial race by resorting to a conventional election strategy dependent on organizations supporting them. There is no denying that political parties tend to select their candidates from among those who are well known to the public because of their frequent TV appearances.

Since the heads of local governments are selected through a popular vote, it is understandable that candidates' personal popularity and their ability to dispatch messages that impress voters, rather than their political party affiliation and organizational support, are effective in winning such races. However, the governor of Tokyo, which has a population of 13.29 million and will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, is a kind of symbol of Japan. Therefore, it is only natural that political parties put their utmost efforts into having their candidate win the race by all means.

However, the LDP has suffered setbacks in mayoral and gubernatorial elections in urban areas since last year. As such, LDP election strategists appear to want to try to prevent the results of the Tokyo gubernatorial race from affecting the evaluation of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The LDP is highly critical of Masuzoe, whom it expelled after he formed a new party while the LDP was still an opposition party. Nevertheless, the LDP decided to back Masuzoe because "there is no other candidate who can win the race," showing it is on the defensive in the Tokyo election in sharp contrast to its aggressive attitude in national politics.

The DPJ reportedly asked former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa to run in the race because it was reluctant to back Masuzoe as he is supported by the ruling coalition. However, it is highly doubtful whether the DPJ was truly enthusiastic about fielding its own candidate.

One cannot help but believe that both the LDP and the DPJ are spending a lot of time on trying to convince the public that they have no choice but to support Masuzoe. So-called "third political forces," such as the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party, have failed to take the initiative in selecting candidates in elections in urban areas where they hold massive support.

Japan's capital faces numerous challenges, such as disaster prevention measures and responses to the ultra-aging population. More candidates may announce their candidacy before Feb. 9 when the Tokyo Metropolitan Election Administration Commission is to accept candidacies in the race. All candidates should announce their specific election campaign pledges at an early date and launch full-scale policy debate to allow Tokyo voters to judge who is the most suitable to lead the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

January 09, 2014(Mainichi Japan)