Ishihara must face the opposition

Shinginko, other projects now in doubt

by Mariko Kato

The Democratic Party of Japan’s rise to pre-eminence in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly may force Gov. Shintaro Ishihara to bend on some of his more controversial policies, notably the funding of troubled lender Shinginko Tokyo, according to observers.

His Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, secured only 61 seats in the 127-seat assembly in Sunday’s election, losing their majority, while the DPJ took 54 seats, up from 34 seats before the election.

“The DPJ will increase its level of confrontation with Ishihara,” said Yasushi Aoyama, a former vice governor under Ishihara and now a Meiji University professor. “There will be many moments of confusion, and Ishihara’s relationship with the assembly will be very difficult.”

Many of Ishihara’s policies denounced by the opposition parties, including the bailout of Shinginko Tokyo, may end up getting blocked.

Contemplating a DPJ victory two days before the race, Ishihara lamented that Tokyo could be “thrown into confusion.”

“I hope (the opposition) will cooperate in joining calm discussions,” he said, and confessed to feeling a “sense of crisis” as the DPJ built up momentum.

The DPJ is expected to act swiftly on Shinginko Tokyo, Aoyama said. The party wants Tokyo to withdraw from the lender. The ailing bank is primarily owned by the metropolitan government and is Ishihara’s pet project.

“As Ishihara will not be proposing new bills (on Shinginko Tokyo) in the near future, it will be a question of how the DPJ goes about dealing with it” and instigating change, he said.

On the other hand, other Ishihara policies, such as the Tsukiji fish market relocation and the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, should not provoke too much conflict in the newly formed assembly, he said.

The relocation of the gigantic fish market to a highly toxic former Tokyo Gas factory site in Koto Ward in 2014 was condemned by all the opposition parties during the race. With many of the market’s brokers also opposing the move, the DPJ officially kicked off the campaign in front of the market July 3, rolling out Yukio Hatoyama, the party’s leader.

“There is every possibility that the move will be postponed. As the No. 1 party, it is up to the DPJ to say immediately how it plans to rebuild the current location,” Aoyama said.

“But the Tsukiji matter won’t be fatal for the LDP, the DPJ or Ishihara, because if the move is postponed no one will be worse off,” he said, pointing out that despite the problems with the current site, including lack of space, the brokers can continue to conduct business as normal.

As for the Olympic bid, which was opposed by the JCP and others, Aoyama said that if the DPJ takes a leadership role the matter will be resolved.

“The DPJ is not opposing the bid, they’re just setting some conditions, one of which is the cost of building a new stadium. So if Tokyo wins the bid, they will discuss remodeling an existing stadium,” he said.

Still, some are skeptical that the DPJ’s ascendancy in the assembly promises a large policy shift, noting that the body has steered clear of confrontation in the past.

Independently elected, the governor has the right to propose budgets and regulations to the assembly, and bears the responsibility of carrying them out.

The assembly deliberates budget proposals and can establish, reform or abolish regulations to keep the governor “in check.”

In reality, however, most of Ishihara’s recent bills have cleared the assembly, and some have criticized the assembly’s lack of influence.

But emphasizing the assembly’s power to block budgets proposed by the governor, Masayuki Yamagishi, spokesman for the metropolitan assembly office, predicted that the opposition party majority could well stall Ishihara’s efforts to implement policies.

“I assume that some of the budget proposals will not pass through the assembly unless significant changes are made,” he said.

While the DPJ may celebrate its election success, Aoyama warned that the results do not necessarily reflect citizens’ support for their policies.

“It wasn’t that Tokyo citizens approved of the DPJ’s policies, rather they were critical of Aso and the LDP,” he said.

The absence of specifics in the DPJ’s policy platform during the election was noticed even by its supporters.

“I don’t think the Tsukiji fish market should move, but the DPJ did not say clearly what it will do about the market,” said a 59-year-old board member of an NPO and resident of Musashino city who voted for an incumbent DPJ candidate.

Because the DPJ does not have a majority on its own, the party is likely to cooperate with other parties on an ad hoc basis, Aoyama said.

“While the DPJ agrees with the JCP on topics such as Tsukiji and Shinginko, it is also in line with New Komeito in such areas as welfare and medical matters, and in others they have the same policies as the LDP,” he said.

“The assembly will no longer be a rigid structure of LDP-New Komeito backing Ishihara and the rest as opposition. It will be revitalized,” he added.