KYOTO — Health care and the availability of doctors in remote areas are key issues in Sunday’s Kyoto gubernatorial election, pitting two-term Gov. Keiji Yamada against newcomer Yusuke Mon.
Yamada, 56, is officially running as an independent but has the strong unofficial support of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, as well as the Democratic Party of Japan. Mon is the official candidate of the Japanese Communist Party.
A public opinion poll conducted by local daily Kyoto Shimbun at the beginning of April showed the governor leading by a comfortable margin but also that more than 30 percent of voters were still undecided.
To win over those still sitting on the fence, especially elderly voters, Yamada is emphasizing his record on health care, saying that thanks to his efforts, the prefecture has the nation’s highest ratio of practicing doctors to residents.
“Kyoto Prefecture has 279 practicing doctors per 100,000 residents, the highest ratio in Japan, where the average is 212.9 doctors per 100,000 residents,” Yamada said in a campaign speech last month.
But most of these doctors live within the city of Kyoto, the world-famous ancient capital that lives on tourism. Almost all the other parts of the prefecture, which stretches to the Sea of Japan coast facing North Korea and borders Nara and Mie prefectures in the south, are rural areas without major industries.
Thus, the governor has promised to increase medical services to the prefecture’s northern and southern towns and villages, where there are acute shortages of medical personnel and growing numbers of elderly without easy access to doctors, nurses and medical centers.
Yamada has also proposed establishing new hospitals and medical centers, and introducing more helicopter services between those medical facilities located in downtown Kyoto and the outlying areas.
Part of the reason Yamada has made health care a major campaign issue is in response to Mon, a physician who enjoys the support of both the JCP and many area medical associations.
He has offered a detailed campaign platform on how he would provide medical services to all residents, especially among the elderly on low incomes.
“As a result of the central government’s control over social welfare payments, the number of people who can’t pay their medical bills is increasing. Eventually I hope to make medical care free for those over the age of 75,” Mon said at a campaign rally earlier this month.
While their health care policies are quite similar, Yamada and Mon differ on how to pay for their proposals, given the prefecture’s financial situation.
Kyoto has lost more than ¥70 billion over the past two years in tax revenue due to the sluggish economy, as firms shut down or leave for neighboring Osaka or Tokyo.
Yamada has promised that the salaries of prefectural bureaucrats will be reviewed for possible cuts. Mon said he’ll de-emphasize spending on large construction projects, emphasize support for smaller businesses and cut tax money for supporting Kyoto’s “buraku” (former outcast class) community, a traditionally powerful group in local politics that often backed LDP and New Komeito candidates in past elections.