The Tokyo gubernatorial race ended Sunday with Vice Gov. Naoki Inose winning the top job, drawing the curtain on a lackluster campaign for the capital that was overshadowed by the Lower House election.
Anointed by former Gov. Shintaro Ishihara as his successor, Inose, 66, breezed past his eight opponents.
In the campaign, he pledged to carry on with Ishihara’s policies, including pushing ahead with the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics and bolstering the capital’s readiness to deal with disasters.
Inose also vowed to pursue the issues he was working on as a vice governor, such as replacing an aging thermal power plant on Tokyo Bay and merging the Tokyo Metro and Toei subway systems.
The other candidates vowed to veer away from Ishihara’s policies.
For instance, Kenji Utsunomiya, former chief of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, pledged to create a movement to abolish all nuclear power plants.
Utsunomiya also wanted to put more effort into helping the socially weak by beefing up the city’s welfare system and creating more jobs.
Shigefumi Matsuzawa, 54, a former governor of Kanagawa, pledged to downsize the metropolitan government and increase the use of solar power as an alternative to nuclear power.
Their pledges, however, failed to sway anywhere near enough voters to take down Inose, who was backed not only by Ishihara’s Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) but also the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.
But to succeed in his own right over the next four years, the first item on Inose’s agenda should be to step out from the shadow of Ishihara and establish a new leadership style.
“What the times require is a different metropolitan government. Inose won’t do well if he can’t create a fundamentally different image of a Tokyo governor,” said Yasushi Aoyama, who served as a vice governor during Ishihara’s first term and is now a professor at Meiji University. “What people need now is a governor who stands up for vulnerable people.”
Despite a penchant for making contentious remarks, the feisty Ishihara was hugely popular with Tokyo residents, winning the governor’s seat for four consecutive terms. With his top-down style, Ishihara took action in a number of areas, most notably erasing the red ink in the metropolitan government’s finances.
He also took the initiative in regulating diesel engine emissions to clean up the capital’s air quality and managed to get Haneda airport back into the business of handling international flights.
Inose, who served as vice governor under Ishihara for five years and five months, is no match for Ishihara in popularity, and analysts warn that if he can’t cut a new figure, support from Tokyoites will quickly fade.
“As politicians, I believe Inose is inferior to Ishihara. But on the other hand, Inose is a writer and has the ability to see through to the center of things. . . . As governor his style should be different from Ishihara’s top-down style,” said Satoru Osugi, a public administration professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University.
Inose will also need to deal with the issues Ishihara left hanging when he abruptly left office, such as debt-ridden Shinginko Tokyo, Ishihara’s brainchild bank set up in 2004 to support struggling small and midsize companies, and the ¥1.47 billion in public donations Ishihara solicited to purchase three of the disputed Senkaku Islands.
Among the major candidates in the race, Inose was the only one who didn’t say the bank should be shut down. Experts, however, say there is no choice but to liquidate the troubled lender, which has already received ¥140 billion in rescue funds from the metropolitan government.
As for the pile of cash donated for the Senkaku plan, which ended in failure when the central government stepped in and purchased the disputed territory, the best way forward would be to return the money, pundits say. In reality, however, this would be difficult because many of the contributors did so anonymously.
Apart from dealing with the negatives in Ishihara’s legacy, the new man must tackle welfare, employment and education, areas in which Ishihara did little during his 13½-year tenure, analysts say.
Osugi, pointing to Tokyo’s rapidly graying demographics, said facilities to care for the elderly are already swamped and some of the capital’s senior denizens are being forced to seek out institutions in other prefectures.
As Tokyo won’t be able to cater to this growing need on its own, the metropolitan government must cooperate with neighboring prefectures to come up with the best system to prepare for the coming avalanche, he said.
Aoyama of Meiji University said Inose also should proceed with education reform and beef up employment measures, such as the support system for startup ventures.
He said the capital’s public schools need more teachers to deal with students with different abilities, and should try to reduce their growing load of paperwork, which is stealing time that should be spent with students.
Meanwhile, the pundits expressed worry about Inose’s unpopularity both with metropolitan bureaucrats and members of the assembly. Inose has often been criticized as “bossy” and a change in character is crucial if he wants to be an effective governor, they said.
“He’s the kind of person often disliked by people. But as the public face of the capital, he’d better become lovable,” Aoyama said.
If Inose can change his attitude and demonstrate he is willing to devote himself to the benefit of Tokyoites, then officials in the metropolitan government as well as assembly members will get behind him, Aoyama said.
One area where Inose’s victory may be of benefit is the Olympics bid, the experts said. Ishihara’s often racist remarks may have cost Tokyo votes in its previous attempts to host the event, but such worries are now in the past, they said.