Koji Kakizawa does not seem to mind his status as a maverick as he pursues a solitary campaign for the April 11 Tokyo gubernatorial election, saying he will turn to unaffiliated voters for support.
He was expelled from the Liberal Democratic Party earlier this month for his refusal to drop his candidacy when the LDP decided to field former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi.
Despite the lack of any organized support, Kakizawa, 65, who ended a six-term career in the Lower House to join the race, said he is confident. “My conviction that it’s my mission to work for Tokyo is getting stronger each day,” Kakizawa told The Japan Times in an interview. He said it was his “passion” to make Tokyo, where he was born and raised, a better city to live in that drove him to defy the party’s orders to drop his candidacy.
LDP leaders ousted Kakizawa on grounds that he abruptly declared his candidacy even though he had at one point agreed to follow the party’s decision, thereby damaging the LDP’s “democratic decision-making process.”
Kakizawa, on the other hand, has criticized the LDP’s candidate-selection process, saying Akashi was chosen over him despite strong support from the party’s Tokyo chapter.
It was not Kakizawa’s first revolt against the LDP. His relationship with the party has always been less than stable. A former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Kakizawa first won a Diet seat as a member of the New Liberal Club, a now-defunct LDP splinter party, in 1977 and joined the LDP four years later.
In 1994, he left the LDP, which had been forced into the opposition camp, and along with several others, formed the now-defunct Jiyuto — a small party unrelated to the current LDP partner of the same name. As head of Jiyuto, he served as foreign minister under the short-lived coalition administration of Tsutomu Hata.
In November 1995, he returned to the LDP, which had regained its status as the ruling party.
Kakizawa said the biggest problem facing Tokyo is its fiscal crisis. To tackle the problem, he has pledged to drastically cut metropolitan government personnel expenses and privatize some public-run transport services.
Only an expert in urban policy can achieve these aggressive reforms, which sound difficult to accomplish but are badly needed by Tokyo, he said. “Without experience and vision in urban policy, a governor cannot re-create a city in a drastic way and will just end up following what the officials are saying,” Kakizawa said.
During his days with the LDP, he served as head of an advisory panel to the party president concerning urban problems. The panel last November proposed several policies, including utilizing vacant lots.
The city’s infrastructure needs to be improved and a better crisis-management system to prepare for disasters such as major earthquakes, is needed to ensure the safety of the public, Kakizawa stressed.
Toward that goal, he said he wants the streets in the metropolis widened so emergency vehicles can reach every structure in an emergency, and he wants electrical cables buried underground.
Kakizawa said he is worried that Tokyo has been losing its status as one of the world’s biggest financial centers since the burst of the bubble economy of the late 1980s. To ensure Tokyo’s prosperity, he argued, more businesses must be invited in to revive international commercial activities in the metropolis.
Tokyo’s economy will be revitalized by revamping businesses and creating more jobs, coupled with development of the waterfront area, he said. “Tokyo’s revival will eventually lead to a revitalization of the ailing economy of Japan. “I want to make Tokyo a city that residents can be proud of” in terms of urban design, comfortable living and financial power as a business center, Kakizawa said.
He plans to directly talk to voters and explain his policies during the campaign, noting that will be the key to gaining support from people who have no affiliation with the major parties.