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Who’ll govern the governor?

A high-ranking bureaucrat of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had this to say about new Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose: “Although he served as vice governor, it is not known whether he has the necessary political finesse. I wonder if he is capable of moving metropolitan politics forward.”

In the Dec. 16 Tokyo gubernatorial election, Inose garnered more than 4.3 million votes, the largest in any election in the nation’s history. He was the handpicked heir of Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who had stepped down to run for the Lower House.

According to a midlevel metropolitan government official, even though Inose served as vice governor under Ishihara for more than five years, he would have to start from scratch in dealing with the bureaucracy, the top echelon of which are filled with those who were obedient to Ishihara but only superficially.

It is well known that Ishihara showed up at his office only two or three days a week. He kept things going with the capable lieutenants around him, including former Vice Gov. Takeo Hamauzu, famous for his “reign of terror.”

Those confidants of Ishihara in turn had metropolitan officials under their control, made them obedient to Ishihara and placed them in important positions to control each section, according to a news reporter.

“At this point, Inose has no righthand aides. Many high-ranking bureaucrats were only following Ishihara’s instructions. Inose has no true proteges. Inose, who was used by Ishihara, was just a fox that borrowed the authority of a tiger,” the high-ranking bureaucrat said. With no subordinates of his own, Inose has no means to control over 170,000 civil servants under him.

Even if public schoolteachers and police officers are excluded, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has some 37,000 officials and workers.

The metropolitan government’s annual budget is nearly as big as that of a medium-sized country. And its bureaucrats are as talented as those of the central government. Unlike other prefectural governments, it has refused to accept officials from central government ministries, especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, into high positions. Thanks to abundant tax revenues, the metropolitan government has filled important positions with bureaucrats who started their career there.

A metropolitan government worker said, “Although I had hoped that Inose would change the way Ishihara ran the metropolitan government, I was soon disappointed.”

Inose remained totally obedient to Ishihara. Many metropolitan workers and officials are said to abhor his personality, characterized by vehement attacks on his enemies. More importantly, Inose has not built up a track record of achievements as vice governor to speak of, according to the metropolitan worker.

During the election campaign, Inose called for reform of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and unification of the two subway systems in Tokyo — one operated by the private Tokyo Metro Co. and the other under the metropolitan government’s Transportation Bureau.

There have been no reports that the trade and industry ministry listened to Inose’s view and Tepco has changed accordingly. There have been no reports of changes to the subway system, either. There have also been cases in which Inose took credit after the fact for arrangements completed by other metropolitan workers and officials.

The aforementioned midranking official said: “Although Inose has the ability to make various ideas known, his followup actions miss the mark. His only accomplishment was creating a number of project teams haphazardly.”

In addition to the bureaucracy of the metropolitan government, the Metropolitan Assembly is equally difficult for Inose to deal with. He will need the support and cooperation of the assembly in tackling three major issues inherited from Ishihara: restructuring the financially troubled ShinGinko Tokyo (a bank created at Ishihara’s initiative in 2005 to help small and medium-size enterprises); moving the central fish market from Tsukiji to a landfill area in Toyosu; and the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Inose won the December election with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito. Although the LDP’s Tokyo chapter tried to field its own candidate, it was eventually forced to follow the party headquarters’ decision to support Inose.

Another reporter who covers the Tokyo Metropolitan Government says that while Komeito is more or less neutral toward Inose, the Liberal Democrats in the assembly are ready to challenge him.

The feud between Inose and the LDP’s Tokyo chapter dates back to when he was named vice governor by Ishihara in June 2007. At the confirmation hearings, the LDP assembly members tried to find fault with his past statements. They didn’t want Inose meddling with their vested interests in constructing and managing roads. It took strenuous efforts by Ishihara to win the confirmation of Inose’s nomination.

Soon after the confirmation, Inose infuriated the LDP members of the assembly by having Ishihara scrap an urban redevelopment plan in which an LDP assembly member, a high-ranking official of the LDP’s Tokyo chapter, was deeply involved. After that, no serious trouble ensued as Ishihara told Inose to lay off the LDP’s vested interests.

An LDP source said: “Leaders of the LDP’s Tokyo chapter will never forgive Inose for that incident. Moreover, they are guarding against Inose interfering further with LDP members’ vested interests.”

Unlike in the Lower House where the LDP dominates, the Democratic Party of Japan still commands a majority in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Inose cannot ignore the LDP, which has joined hands with Komeito in the assembly. The LDP will likely continue to harass Inose until he concedes on budgetary and other matters in exchange for the LDP’s pledge to cooperate in managing the assembly.

If Inose has good sense and succeeds in building up congenial and cooperative relations with the LDP, he’ll make a smooth start in the Metropolitan Assembly.

A high-ranking transport ministry official — who knew Inose as a member of a government advisory panel and saw him support a proposal to gut a plan to drastically reform four public corporations that had built and managed expressways — summed it up: It will be possible (for LDP assembly members) to control Inose’s behavior by massaging his ego.

If business goes smoothly in the Metropolitan Assembly, it will mean that Inose has joined hands with the LDP and that Ishihara’s policy line is being pushed. If Inose stumbles in the assembly, the metropolitan government’s business will be delayed. Neither scenario would be welcomed by the 4.3 million Tokyoites who voted for Inose.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the January issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, cultural and economic scenes.