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Resident group demands Japan's youngest female mayor quit for 'insulting attitude'

Mayor Haruka Kuwabara of Tsunan, Niigata Prefecture, heads to a municipal assembly standing committee meeting at the town hall on June 12, 2019. (Mainichi/Yukio Itahana)

TSUNAN, Niigata -- Haruka Kuwabara, at 32 the youngest female mayor in Japan, was targeted with a resignation petition filed on June 12 by a local residents' group claiming she had taken an "insulting" attitude at a municipal assembly meeting last year.

The demand, filed by the "Tsunan-machi no mirai o kangaeru-kai" (committee to consider the future of Tsunan town), sought a municipal assembly resolution calling on Kuwabara to quit. The group cited "her insulting words and attitude" toward a person who asked her a question during an assembly session in September last year.

The assembly's standing committee rejected the request.

Group head Tadao Fujiki, who attended the standing committee session as an observer, commented, "Everything is in the petition. I will await the assembly's decision."

According to multiple sources close to the Tsunan town government, Fujiki apparently backed the second-place finisher in last year's three-way mayoral election. Kuwabara won the contest by 192 votes.

At one September 2018 assembly session, Kuwabara was being peppered with questions and comments by veteran assembly members, including demands she "give straight answers." The mayor apparently said at one point, "Don't get so shrill. Be calm." Kuwabara later apologized to the assembly for the comment.

On June 12, she replied to each point in the resident group's petition and bowed in apology, stating, "These are all the result of my moral failings." However, the assembly's standing committee concluded that the mayor's September comments "were a matter regarding her character and not at all malicious, and do not constitute grounds for her resignation."

Kuwabara returned to her native Tsunan after studying local governance at the elite University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Public Policy, and was elected to the town assembly in 2011 at age 25. She went on to become vice speaker of the assembly before running for mayor.

(Japanese original by Yukio Itahana, Minamiuonuma Local Bureau)

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