In his first address before employees of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in late April, new Gov. Shintaro Ishihara defined his tenure as “planting new policy seedlings,” expressing his wish for a drastic shakeup of the metro administration.
One month after taking the post, Ishihara says he now grasps the framework of his administration and is ready to begin realizing his election pledges. And his decision-making style has become clear — open confrontation, an unusual practice in a world where things are often negotiated behind the scenes.
In his first address to employees, on April 23, Ishihara said public servants are not fully aware that they are using taxpayer money.
To both bureaucrats and reporters, Ishihara expressed his desire for a heated debate on the policy of the nation’s capital.
Ishihara baffled top officials at a news conference by revealing his idea of reducing recruitment in 2000 to one-third of this spring’s level — without either consulting or informing them beforehand. Yet soon afterward, officials decided to cut the 2000 intake to 280, less than one-third of this year’s 893 newly hired employees.
In appointing vice governors, Ishihara tapped Yasushi Aoyama, 55, deputy director general of the Policy and Information Bureau, an unusual promotion because Aoyama bypassed his seniors, angering some assembly members and metropolitan officials.
Away from managing the metropolitan government and despite repeated criticism by Chinese officials, the 66-year-old tough-talking nationalist and author reiterated his controversial views on the Taiwan-China relationship, the Nanjing Massacre and Chinese actions in Tibet in his column in the vernacular daily Sankei Shimbun in early May.
Policy issues aside, Ishihara has insisted on not living in the governor’s official residence, because he does not want to move out from his house in the high-class residential district of Denen Chofu, Ota Ward.
Many of Ishihara’s actions are indeed provocative, but one top official, who had earlier expressed concerns over how Ishihara would display his leadership, said he was pleasantly surprised by the governor’s realistic approach.
“In his talk commemorating Constitution day, he didn’t call for a revision of (the war-renouncing) Article 9 (as he had done in the past), while he said the Constitution has many flaws. He is a politician, indeed,” the official said.
Another top official said Ishihara’s outspokenness and fondness for confrontation have created a pleasant sense of tension with metro officials that was lacking during the administration of his predecessor, Yukio Aoshima. “He tells us everything on his mind,” the official said. “He is a democratic leader, not a dictator.”
On some of his election pledges, Ishihara appears to be moving quickly.
Soon after taking the post, Ishihara vowed to establish a junk bond market — an election pledge to enable small and midsize enterprises to raise funds and stimulate Tokyo’s ailing economy — by the end of this year.
Before the election, many critics described the idea as unrealistic. But Ishihara said he would even kick it off around this fall, and revealed that some of his key officials are conducting detailed research in the United States. The idea has drawn praise from International Trade and Industry Minister Kaoru Yosano. “I’m sure it would help small and medium-size businesses,” Ishihara said Friday.
On his highly controversial campaign pledge to seek the return of the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base or joint use of its airfield by commercial airlines, Ishihara is scheduled to meet U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley at City Hall on Wednesday, visit the base next week and begin talks with heads of municipalities surrounding the base.
On Tokyo’s most pressing problem — its fiscal crisis — the metro government followed another of Ishihara’s campaign pledges and decided to introduce a double entry bookkeeping system that would expose assets and debts along with annual revenues and expenditures.
“He is, in a sense, like a master of a samurai family,” one official close to the governor said. “He knows how to fight against enemies, has his own informed sources and is eloquent enough to raise the morale of warriors,”
Yet Ishihara will need far more ingenuity to come up with a solution to whip Tokyo back into shape.
On his first day in the governor’s chair, Ishihara repeated his controversial belief that all public services should be privatized. But several weeks later, he admitted the situation is not that simple.
Nonetheless, he must do something extraordinary when compiling the fiscal 2000 budget and prevent the effective bankruptcy of the capital.
Metro officials estimate a 620 billion yen revenue shortfall for fiscal 2000, 720 billion yen for fiscal 2001 and 760 billion yen for fiscal 2002.
If the metropolis, which posted a deficit of some 100 billion yen in fiscal 1998, suffers an additional revenue shortfall of some 200 billion yen, it will be designated by the central government as an “administrative body requiring fiscal rehabilitation,” which makes it unable to issue bonds without approval by the state authority.
Even if Ishihara manages to compile a budget or come up with other administrative measures to cure the financial woes, he then has to deal with the metro assembly, where the majority consists of anti-Ishihara Liberal Democrats and New Komeito members.
Already, the assembly dealt a blow to Ishihara early this month by effectively blocking his plan to appoint his right hand man as one of his three vice governors.
While Ishihara appears optimistic and has reminded some fretting LDP members that he was a longtime Liberal Democrat, officials view the ordinary assembly session in June, in which Ishihara will make a comprehensive keynote address, as his real challenge.