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Race begins for metro assembly

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Campaigning kicked off Friday for the June 23 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, which appears to lack a major divisive issue but whose results may portend the outcome of the crucial July Upper House poll.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its partner, New Komeito, which hold a Lower House majority at the national level, hope to end the Democratic Party of Japan’s majority in the metro assembly.

The assembly has 127 seats up for grabs, and 253 candidates are vying for them.

“To boost the economy and create a diplomatically strong nation through a stabilized political situation, we will consider the Tokyo assembly election almost as crucial as the national election,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters earlier in the day. Abe’s LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc at the national level hopes to secure a majority in the Upper House poll.

“We would like to publicize the successes that we have achieved during the past six months to restore Japan. And then in the upcoming House of Councilors election, we aim to resolve the stalemate caused by the divided Diet,” he added, referring to the opposition-controlled upper chamber.But experts say parties are avoiding contentious issues concerning Tokyo’s policies, making it hard for voters to see any clear differences among the parties.

Yoshiaki Kobayashi, professor of political science at Keio University, said party chiefs should debate issues centering on the capital, not on national policies like Abe’s “Abenomics” economic policies, over which metro assembly members have no direct say.

“Parties basically regard the election as a prelude to the Upper House election,” Kobayashi said. “All in all, the Upper House election is what is important for them.”

Issues most parties and candidates agree on, including Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, will probably get play during the metro campaign, but bones of contention, including relocating the Tsukiji fish market and introducing 24-hour bus services, may get short shrift to avoid confrontation with Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose and the metropolitan government, he said.

“Tokyo assembly members (and candidates) usually push the governor and the metro government to meet the requests of their supporters,” he said. “They don’t want a confrontation.”

Thus many of the policies Inose has promoted are not being opposed by the major parties.

Candidates running for the LDP, DPJ and Your Party basically support Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Games. The capital is vying with Istanbul and Madrid for the right to host the event, and the winner will be announced in Buenos Aires in September.

Some parties at the metro level, and their candidates, are trying to differentiate themselves from others in energy and education policies.

The Japanese Communist Party and Tokyo Seikatsusha Network, a local group, are demanding elimination of nuclear power.

New Komeito wants counselors stationed at all public elementary, junior high and high schools to curb corporal punishment and bullying.

Reducing the number of children listed on day care waiting lists to zero has been pledged by the LDP, DPJ and JCP.

The DPJ said it aims to introduce a “gap-year” program at Tokyo Metropolitan University to encourage students to engage in activities that contribute to society and to international affairs. The LDP hopes to help 2,000 high school students annually participate in exchange programs or enter overseas universities.

But lacking a key issue, the metro poll is shaping up more as a chance for the LDP to oust the DPJ as the top party in the assembly.

At present, the DPJ has 43 seats while the LDP has 39.

Amid Abe’s high support rate, the LDP is banking on a continued favorable image, and thus is fielding 59 candidates for the metro poll, whereas the DPJ is only running 44, aiming to retain as many seats as possible.

Shigeru Uchida, secretary general of the LDP’s metro chapter, said the LDP aims to recapture the leading position in the assembly.

DPJ Secretary General Goshi Hosono insisted his party’s goal is to get all its candidates elected, as it has fielded many incumbents.

JCP leader Kazuo Shii said it aims to win more than 11 seats, an increase from the current eight. A party needs to have 11 seats to submit bills to the assembly.

Inose, who garnered a record 4.3 million votes in a landslide win during last year’s gubernatorial election, reiterated his nonpartisan position earlier this month, saying he will not stand behind any particular candidate.

There are more than 10.7 million eligible voters in the capital, home to some 13.2 million people.