Election is about local issues, not a national litmus test: Aoyama

by Kazuaki Nagata

Political parties and the media widely see the July 12 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election as the last and biggest litmus test before a Lower House election that may see the Democratic Party of Japan unseat the ruling bloc.

But the assembly election won’t just be a matter of siding with either the DPJ-led opposition camp or the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc, because the stakes are different than at the national level, former Tokyo Vice Gov. Yasushi Aoyama said.

“I think it is quite improper to label the assembly election as a prelude battle to the general election. It’s just a matter involving the parties,” argued Aoyama, a seasoned former metropolitan bureaucrat and now a Meiji University professor.

Aoyama served as vice governor during Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s first term from 1999 to 2003,

“For Tokyo residents, the poll is about their economic (situation) and livelihoods, and which candidates are with them,” he said, adding that he hopes voters carefully scrutinize the candidates’ policies and visions.

On the surface, the assembly election appears to reflect the head-on battle at the national level between the LDP and the DPJ.

The ruling coalition supports Ishihara’s policies. And it aims, as it does at the national level, to keep its majority in the assembly.

The DPJ, the Japanese Communist Party and Tokyo Seikatsusha Network hope to break the status quo.

Of the 127 assembly seats up for grabs, the LDP currently holds 48 and New Komeito 22 — a combined majority.

The DPJ has 34 seats, the JCP 13 and Tokyo Seikatsusha Network four. There are four independents and two seats are vacant at the moment.

The DPJ plans to field more than 64 candidates.

The assembly election is held once every four years using a multiseat constituency system.

Even if the opposition parties win a majority, however, the metropolitan government is not likely to undergo drastic change, Aoyama said.

The assembly is different from the Diet, where policies tend to become tools for the ruling or opposition camps to guide events.

Aoyama cited the example of former Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima, who did not have a party base in the assembly during his 1995-1999 term.

“I do not recall any cases where the metropolitan government did not function well” because of Aoshima’s lack of party base, Aoyama said.

“Looking back, it is hard to imagine that the assembly would be thrown into chaos even if the ruling coalition loses its majority,” he said.

Unlike national politics, opposition for the sake of opposition is not really the case in the metropolitan assembly, Aoyama added.

In fact, the power balance in the metropolitan assembly has changed over the years, and it has maintained a healthy sense of tension, allowing it to check submitted budgets and ordinances — one of the two main jobs for assembly members.

But when it comes to the other main task — initiating policies for the sake of Tokyo residents — assembly members are not doing a good job, Aoyama argued.

He pointed out that although the members propose policy options in debates, most blueprints are actually prepared by metropolitan bureaucrats.

While noting that assembly members will be busy campaigning for the election, Aoyama urged the candidates to take the opportunity to interact directly with voters.

If one assembly member serves three terms, it amounts to 12 years, which is long enough to be an expert in a certain policy field, Aoyama said.

“I think assembly members should have their areas of expertise and brainstorm policies more,” he said.

“Otherwise, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government won’t improve.”