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Japanese town in turmoil as 10% of officials resign following mayor's election scandal

Manazuru Mayor Kazuhiko Matsumoto, right, receives a report from a third-party panel investigating into the voter list scandal, in Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture, on April 28, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Motohashi)
The town of Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture, is seen in this photo taken on Jan. 25, 2022. (Mainichi/Nami Takata)

MANAZURU, Kanagawa -- Local government officials of this small coastal town in east Japan are quitting one after another following a scandal involving the mayor who has admitted to having illegally copied and used a list of voters in an election.

    Since December 2021, 11 employees, or some 10% of all town workers in Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture, with a population of less than 7,000, have resigned, and it's feared that the number could increase amid growing distrust of the mayor.

    Mayor Kazuhiko Matsumoto, 56, copied a pollbook in February 2020 when he was the head of the town's civic life department and used it for his campaign in the mayoral election that same year where he was elected mayor. Matsumoto resigned after his illegal activity was exposed by the media in October 2021, but was reelected two months later.

    However, it came to light after his reelection that the copied list included information on residents' voting status. In a highly unusual move, Matsumoto has since been preparing to press criminal charges against himself and a former town official.

    While the mayor has apologized repeatedly over the matter, he is refusing to resign this time. He's made comments suggesting that he's shifting the blame to the municipal government, saying that the issue was with the town hall's data management. One town worker said, "I cannot forgive him (for what he's done) while we're working hard," while another commented, "I was disappointed in our residents for having let Mr. Matsumoto win (reelection)."

    A senior town hall official who submitted their resignation dated June 1 told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The mayor's behavior suggesting no remorse was the last straw." Another worker who's left the town hall said, "I couldn't bring myself to work (for the municipal government) seeing the mayor's attitude."

    The town started seeing a string of staff resignations right after Matsumoto's reelection in December 2021. A long-serving official who had been reappointed after retirement and the municipal education board chief -- a local public servant in special service -- resigned following one another, and of the three counsellors running the town's administrative tasks under Matsumoto, one also left their job. Currently, the town only has one counsellor remaining as the other was dismissed in November 2021 for their involvement in the scandal.

    According to the town hall, Manazuru needs around 110 workers to smoothly run its administrative affairs, but as of July 1, it had 93 employees. Some have voiced concerns that they may face difficulties operating teller tasks at the town hall, while Mayor Matsumoto himself admitted during a June 29 town assembly session that municipal staff are "confused and exhausted."

    The town has informally offered three candidates jobs starting in August, but one declined. While it plans to start the recruiting process for October, it won't be easy to find replacements for experienced workers, raising concerns for even further confusion in the town's administration.

    (Japanese original by Yuki Motohashi, Hiratsuka Local Bureau)

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