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LDP’s Masuda gets official Tokyo gubernatorial nod as former commentator Koga weighs DP bid

by Mizuho Aoki and Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writers

Former internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda officially joined the Tokyo gubernatorial race Monday after receiving the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Tokyo chapter, while a torrent of other candidates appeared ready to join him in throwing their hats into the ring.

The LDP’s Tokyo branch endorsed Masuda after days of wrangling to unite on a single candidate. It had vacillated between Masuda and former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike, who had repeatedly asked for the chapter’s backing in her quest to be its official candidate.

Koike, currently an LDP Lower House member, is now set to run in the July 31 Tokyo election as an independent, a move that will likely split the LDP vote.

On Monday, Koike announced her campaign pledges, saying that she will make Tokyo a safer, environmentally friendly and diverse city where all people regardless of their background can reach their full potential.

“The upcoming Olympic Games are a good opportunity to introduce such universal solutions,” Koike said.

She also pledged to improve working conditions in day care centers. Long waiting lists for day care centers has become one of the major reasons women are unable to return to work after having a child.

She also vowed to halve the governor’s salary.

Koike said she can speak and act on behalf of women and pledged to support females who want to use their potential to contribute to society.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Democratic Party’s Tokyo branch had yet to decide on its candidate as of Monday evening, although it has sounded out former trade ministry bureaucrat Shigeaki Koga. The official campaign period kick off Thursday.

During a news conference at the metropolitan government’s main office, Masuda, also a former Iwate governor, pledged to work on imminent issues facing Tokyo, including the chronic shortage of day care centers and a lack of nursing care facilities for the elderly as well as nursing staff to cater to the growing needs of the nation’s rapidly graying population.

He also vowed to beef up disaster preparedness in the earthquake-prone capital.

“In the past four years, three leaders have stepped down in the midst of their tenures, causing stagnation and confusion in the metropolitan government,” Masuda said. “During that time, many issues have been left piled up. What  Tokyo needs is to solve those problems.”

His campaign pledges include a vow to make Tokyo more attractive for tourists, including by providing multilingual information.

Meanwhile, Masuda backpedaled on granting local suffrage to non-Japanese residents — a position at odds with the LDP — although he had supported it when he was Iwate governor.

“It needs careful consideration,” he said.

Later in the day, executives from the Tokyo chapter of the DP met with former trade ministry official Koga in a Tokyo hotel to request he run for the gubernatorial election on an official party ticket.

A vocal critic of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration, Koga caused a stir in March last year by claiming during a live news program on TV Asahi that the network had been pressured by the government to remove him from his role as a commentator on the show.

“You’re an expert when it comes to handling administrative matters. We hope you will draw on your experience as a former official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to tackle a variety of issues facing Tokyo, such as tax waste and the vested-interest structure,” said Jin Matsubara, head of the DP’s Tokyo chapter.

After the meeting, Koga described the offer as a “great honor” and said he would finalize his decision as soon as possible after speaking with other potential candidates, including actor Junichi Ishida and lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya.

“It’s not like I can just declare my candidacy and go ahead by myself. In order to be on the same league with powerful LDP-backed candidates, I think it’s imperative we cooperate,” Koga told reporters, stressing the need for opposition parties to field a joint candidate.

The DP’s move may cast a cloud over the prospects of Utsunomiya, a veteran human rights lawyer who declared in a separate news conference Monday his intention to run in the race.

He said he will seek endorsements from the opposition.

“But if the opposition decides to back another candidate, I’m open for discussions,” Utsunomiya said, evading a question on whether such a move would lead to him withdrawing his candidacy.

A run by Utsunomiya, the 69-year-old former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, would be his third time seeking the Tokyo gubernatorial slot.

He opposes constitutional amendments and the planned 2017 dispatch of Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. He would also seek to reduce expenses related to the organization of the 2020 Olympics.

If elected, Utsunomiya hopes to use his 45 years of experience as a lawyer to reform the administrative system, which allows for the overspending of taxpayer money and has led to the resignation of two governors over funds scandals.

He believes that drastic reforms in the metropolitan government would strengthen social assistance and address a number of issues such as waiting lists faced by Tokyo citizens for children’s day care centers.

He hopes to reduce to zero the number of children on day care waiting lists and provide free school lunches at elementary and junior high schools while also reducing tuitions to make child-rearing more affordable.

“I have noticed that this system doesn’t cater to the citizens” and doesn’t respond to their needs, he said.

“I would like to create a system where citizens can oversee public funds spending,” he said, noting his plan to establish a third-party panel and appoint an ombudsman to supervise expenditures and related policies.

Meanwhile, actor Ishida, 62, who had expressed his willingness to run on the condition that the opposition parties endorsed him as a unified candidate, gave up his bid at a news conference Monday.

The Tokyo governor’s seat was vacated by Yoichi Masuzoe last month.

Staff writers Tomohiro Osaki and Daisuke Kikuchi contributed to this report