Gubernatorial campaigns kick off

Campaigning for gubernatorial elections slated for April 11 in 12 prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, started Thursday, kicking off the first round of the quadrennial unified local elections.

The race in the capital has attracted 19 candidates — the most ever — making it far and away the most competitive gubernatorial election.

Aside from Tokyo and Osaka, the governorships of Hokkaido, Iwate, Kanagawa, Fukui, Mie, Tottori, Shimane, Fukuoka, Saga and Oita are up for grabs.

The first round also features the mayoral election in Sapporo, campaigning for which starts Sunday, and assembly elections in all prefectures except Ibaraki, Tokyo and Osaka, and in 11 major cities, campaigning for which begins April 2.

In the second round of polls, set for April 25, mayors and assembly members of smaller cities, wards, towns and villages will be elected. A total of 58 hopefuls are vying for the 12 gubernatorial races, creating unusually competitive contests with an average of 4.8 candidates per office.

Among them are Shintaro Ishihara, Yoichi Masuzoe, Kunio Hatoyama, Koji Kakizawa, Yasushi Akashi and Man Mikami — all running in Tokyo as independents, with some also being backed by political parties.

The Liberal Democratic Party is backing Akashi, a former U.N. undersecretary general. Kakizawa, a former foreign minister, and Ishihara, a novelist and former transport minister, were formerly LDP members of the Lower House.

Hatoyama is backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, while Mikami, an education critic, is supported by the Japanese Communist Party. Masuzoe, a political scientist, is running a nonpartisan campaign. If no candidate gains at least 25 percent of the vote, the election must be held again.

With a large red flower in his lapel, Akashi made his first campaign speech at the east exit of JR Shinjuku Station, backed by many LDP lawmakers, including Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. “After my 40-year career at the United Nations, I am determined to devote the rest of my whole life to Tokyo,” Akashi said, adding that what the capital needs now is not unrealistic ideas but the ability to realize policies.

Speaking for Akashi, Obuchi said he is ready to accept all requests from Akashi if he becomes Tokyo governor. “The party endorsed Akashi with a full guarantee … Akashi is running for governor with strong enthusiasm to make Tokyo the best city in the world.”

At the station’s west exit, Mikami addressed several hundred supporters, with JCP Chairman Tetsuzo Fuwa standing by. Mikami registered for the campaign with the name Man Mikami, instead of Mitsuru, using a different reading of the kanji for his given name. “The reason why the gubernatorial election has attracted so much attention this time is because people are dissatisfied with the current administration of the metropolitan government, which only benefits big businesses like the major construction companies and large banks,” Mikami said.

“The largest point of contention is whether to put this ‘help the strong and put down the weak’ administration straight,” he said.

Ishihara appeared in front of the metropolitan government building, with his son, Nobuteru, an LDP lawmaker. “If Tokyo changes, Japan and then the world would change,” he said. “To do that, we need new ideas. It’s I who has the ideas and courage (to carry out ideas).”

Hatoyama kicked off his bid amid light rain in front of Asakusa’s Kaminari-mon Gate with a speech emphasizing the need to make the metropolis a more pleasant place to live. “Tokyo is a city where you can get anything, be exposed to myriad cultures and is convenient as far as transportation is concerned,” he said. “But in surveys of pleasantness of life, it always ranks in the lower half.”

Pledging his and the DPJ’s support to Hatoyama, party leader Naoto Kan said Hatoyama’s experience and rapport with other leaders will allow him to lead the metropolis well.

Kan also took the LDP to task, calling its policies shortsighted and saying it is losing its ability to govern.

Addressing a crowd of about 300 who gathered at a square near JR Shimbashi Station, Kakizawa said only a politician with enough knowledge and experience, like himself, can reconstruct a Tokyo that is struggling with failing finances. “Unless Tokyo overcomes its severe financial woes, projects to make this metropolis comfortable to live will not come true,” said the former Lower House member, who defied the LDP by entering the race and was subsequently ousted from the party.

To make Tokyo a place where the elderly can live with comfort, it is necessary to have unique welfare plans, such as building small-scale nursery facilities, he said.

Climbing on a beer box in front of JR Koiwa Station in Edogawa Ward, Masuzoe pledged he will promote welfare by cutting “wasted money” spent by metro officials. “People are saving money instead of spending because they are worried about their future welfare,” Masuzoe said, adding that the metro government should provide financial assistance to needy senior citizens so that all receive equal nursing services.

He also criticized the metro government for spending money on extravagant offices and chauffeur-driven cars for senior officials instead of building nursing facilities.

Apparently to criticize rivals of the LDP-backed Akashi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said candidates in the Tokyo gubernatorial election should be more responsible for what they say through the media. “The budget and each policy must gain approval of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly to be implemented, but they are speaking as if they can do anything like the president, through various TV programs,” Nonaka said.

Speaking of the possible impact of the Tokyo race on Obuchi’s government, Nonaka said the LDP is currently taking all possible measures to ensure Akashi wins and the government remains stable.

In Osaka, the LDP did not field a candidate and a virtual one-on-one contest is expected between the incumbent, “Knock” Yokoyama, an independent and former comedian, and Makoto Ajisaka, a former professor at Kansai University supported by the JCP.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, the end of the registration period, nine candidates had entered the race.