DPJ-backed Kumagai takes Chiba mayoral election

CHIBA (Kyodo) Toshihito Kumagai, supported by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, won the Chiba mayoral election Sunday, defeating a rival backed by the ruling camp and another opposition candidate.

The landslide victory for Kumagai in the city with a population of about 950,000 will give additional impetus to the DPJ, which recently won mayoral elections in the cities of Nagoya and Saitama, and further rock the Cabinet of Prime Minister Taro Aso, from which one member resigned Friday over a Japan Post-related row, ahead of a general election that must be held by fall.

The 31-year-old Kumagai, a former city assembly member also backed by the Social Democratic Party, will become the youngest mayor in Japan.

The two other candidates were Kojiro Hayashi, 63, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition New Komeito party, and Fusae Yuki, 65, of the Japanese Communist Party. Both Kumagai and Hayashi ran as independents.

The voter turnout was 43.50 percent, up 6.30 percentage points from the previous Chiba mayoral election.

Declaring victory, Kumagai told his supporters at his campaign office, “I think my will to change the city matched that of many people, and that enabled me to win. . . . I’m looking forward to tomorrow as a citizen as well, as I know a new political era will begin.”

With all votes counted, 170,629 ballots went to Kumagai, 117,560 to Hayashi and 30,933 to Yuki, according to the local election board.

The focus is now on whether the ruling bloc can recover from the consecutive losses in the major city mayoral elections in the upcoming Shizuoka gubernatorial race and the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election in July.

“We were certain he would win,” Kaname Tajima, a DPJ member of the House of Representatives, said at Kumagai’s campaign office. “I think it really showed people that the city is actually going to change, and I’m sure they will get the message that this is the dawn of a change of administration.”

Supporters at the office cheered ecstatically to news that Kumagai would achieve a solid victory and collected nearly 30 percent of the votes of LDP supporters.

The election campaign that began with Hayashi declaring his candidacy in April took a sudden turn when the incumbent mayor, 69-year-old Keiichi Tsuruoka, was arrested later that month on suspicion of accepting bribes from a construction firm, several months before the end of his second term.

The arrest of Tsuruoka, who resigned May 1, hurt Hayashi, who had served as the deputy mayor under him and was seen as his “successor.” It prompted the DPJ, which was initially unlikely to field a candidate, to suddenly look for a candidate to run against him.

The DPJ characterized Kumagai as “young, with no experience in politics and no money,” and therefore different from Hayashi.

Yuki, meanwhile, criticized money politics and said the Japanese Communist Party is the only party that has not accepted political donations.

The main issues in the election were how to restore public trust in the city government after the arrest of Tsuruoka and how to deal with the towering municipal debt totaling more than 1 trillion yen.