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Editorial: Put lessons learned from Masuzoe's failure to good use

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe tendered his resignation on June 15 to take responsibility over a political funding scandal after facing no-confidence motions from almost all political parties and factions in an unprecedented move. The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly approved his resignation.

    It is only natural that Masuzoe quit his job because he repeatedly mixed his personal affairs with his official duties, such as using part of his political funds to finance his stays at a hotel with his family, and failing to accept accountability for such actions.

    His resignation came only two years and four months after he took office. The confusion that his scandals caused to the metropolitan administration is serious. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, which comprise the ruling bloc in the metropolitan government, should take to heart the grave responsibility they bear for backing Masuzoe.

    The governor's eleventh-hour behavior over the scandals was ugly. Masuzoe asked political parties and factions in the assembly to postpone the submission of no-confidence motions against him, saying that if he were forced to resign right now, a gubernatorial election to pick his successor would coincide with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and Paralympics, causing international embarrassment for Tokyo. However, it would be more disadvantageous to Tokyo if a governor in whom the public has lost confidence were to appear at an international event.

    Masuzoe scored a landslide victory in the Tokyo gubernatorial election in February 2014, garnering approximately 2.11 million votes. The election was called to pick a successor to Naoki Inose, who had stepped down over his receipt of 50 million yen in cash from a medical corporation. This means that two successive Tokyo governors have been forced to resign over money scandals.

    Tokyo residents apparently had high expectations for Masuzoe, who had a clean image and was well versed in social security issues such as nursing care.

    However, the series of scandals involving Masuzoe, which was first reported by the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine, have highlighted how far removed his distinction between the private and the public was from that of the general public.

    Masuzoe justified his use of an official car to frequently travel to his vacation villa in Yugawara, a hot spring resort area of Kanagawa Prefecture, saying, "The official car is a governor's mobile office." He also justified his use of hotel suites when he took overseas business trips, saying, "I needed to be prepared for any hastily arranged meetings with dignitaries," inviting the mistrust of Tokyo residents.

    A probe conducted by lawyers at Masuzoe's request also revealed his inappropriate use of political funds for private purposes, such as his purchase of artworks through online auctions.

    However, Masuzoe avoided explaining these scandals to local residents on the grounds that they were being investigated by third-party lawyers. The governor had apparently intended to stay on after the lawyers concluded that his use of political funds was legal, albeit sometimes inappropriate.

    There is no denying that these scandals were sensationalized by TV gossip shows. However, Masuzoe himself is primarily responsible for intensifying people's anger by failing to take his own scandal seriously and assuming a defiant attitude.

    The LDP and Komeito were initially reluctant to hold Masuzoe responsible for the series of scandals. In particular, the LDP took a lukewarm attitude on whether to hold intensive deliberations on the scandals.

    However, the LDP made a drastic change in its stance once the scandals drew growing public attention out of fear that the party could come under fire for being lenient toward the governor. LDP headquarters scrambled to settle the matter to prevent the scandals from adversely affecting the party's chances of winning the upcoming House of Councillors election.

    Yet questions remain over whether the LDP is serious about addressing problems involving politics and money. House of Representatives member Akira Amari, who had been absent from Diet deliberations over a long period following his resignation as minister for economic revitalization over graft allegations, resumed his political activities immediately after prosecutors decided late last month not to indict him. The LDP should thoroughly address Amari's scandal as well.

    There are no legal restrictions on how political funds should be used. This has allowed politicians to use their political funds in highly questionable ways. In particular, the use of subsidies to political parties that come from taxpayers' money should be strictly scrutinized. Ruling and opposition parties should hold in-depth debate on the political funding system that has caused public distrust in politics.

    A Tokyo gubernatorial election to pick a successor to Masuzoe is expected to be held in either late July or early August -- after the July 10 upper house election. It is abnormal for four gubernatorial elections to be held over a 5 1/2-year period since Shintaro Ishihara was elected to his fourth term in April 2011.

    Masuzoe's successor will need to rehabilitate the metropolitan administration in many aspects, including preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The governor of Tokyo, Japan's capital with a population of 13.6 million, has an extremely important role. The Tokyo governor is responsible for drawing up countermeasures against a possible massive earthquake that is feared to occur directly under the metropolitan area, and improving Tokyo's function as a hub in conjunction with the central government's economic policies.

    It wasn't that the Masuzoe administration didn't accomplish anything. He merged ShinGinko Tokyo -- a troubled, metropolitan government-backed bank and negative legacy of former Gov. Ishihara -- with another bank, increased the employment of handicapped people in Tokyo and reduced the costs of building Olympic-related facilities. He was also proactive about inter-city diplomacy as was shown by his visit to South Korea to meet with President Park Geun-hye.

    Name recognition has been a key to winning Tokyo gubernatorial elections since writer-turned-politician Yukio Aoshima was elected governor in the 1995 poll. Political parties have been unable to play a pivotal role in such elections. The LDP and Komeito supported Masuzoe, who had broken away from the LDP, in the last gubernatorial election apparently because these parties relied on his high profile.

    However, the confusion that Masuzoe's scandals caused to the metropolitan government sounded an alarm over such trends. The next gubernatorial election should not end up being a mere popularity vote.

    So what kind of candidate should be elected governor to replace Masuzoe?

    Given that two consecutive governors were forced to step down over money scandals, the next governor must, at the very least, be honest with money and capable of distinguishing between private and public matters.

    Also, the Tokyo governor must have sufficient leadership skills to handle the metropolitan government's budget, which is far larger than that of any other local government in Japan. Furthermore, the governor must be internationally minded as the head of the city that will host the 2020 Summer Olympics and have the ability to conceptually work out urban design and social security systems.

    The failure of Masuzoe has reminded us that leaders must have the sensitivity to judge what will generate questions and doubts among the public. Political parties must cautiously select candidates who have the capacity to endure the heavy responsibility of the governor of Tokyo.

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