National / Politics

Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido returned for fifth term as voters take experience over change

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

While Tokyo voters took a new direction with Gov. Yuriko Koike’s Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) on Sunday, Hyogo voters opted for more of the same by giving 71-year-old Gov. Toshizo Ido a fifth term on his promises to deal with the prefecture’s ailing finances and falling population.

Ido, who is also head of the eight-prefecture, four-city Union of Kansai Governments, was backed by local chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, as well as the Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party. He defeated a Japan Communist Party-backed candidate and two other unaffiliated candidates.

Ido’s decision to seek a fifth term was criticized by opponents and questioned by many voters.

His main rival, 56-year-old columnist Masahiko Katsuya, who ran without party support, suggested he would try to institute term limits on the governorship if elected. In the end, voters chose Ido’s experience over Katsuya’s push for change.

“It was a hard election, with a short campaign time, and voters asked me why I was running again. By taking a firm step now with prefectural policies, the goal over the next 50 years for Hyogo Prefecture becomes closer and we can pass the baton to the younger generation,” Ido said in his victory speech.

Population loss, especially in the rural northern part of the prefecture along the Sea of Japan, has become a more acute political issue in recent years and was the one of voters’ top concerns, according to local media polls conducted online. According to national census data, Hyogo’s population stood at about 5.53 million in 2015, down 53,000 from 2010.

In 2013, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research projected that Hyogo’s population would fall to around 5.42 million by 2020, 5 million by 2030 and 4.67 million by 2040. While about 27 percent of the prefecture was 65 or older in 2015, the institute predicts that ratio will slowly rise to about 30 percent in 2020, 32 percent in 2030 and 36 percent in 2040.

“To date, we’ve seen the age of population increases. But things have now turned, and we have entered the age of population decreases. So how to ensure that various parts of Hyogo continue to remain vibrant over the next 50 or 100 years has become our theme,” Ido said.

In some towns and villages, especially in parts of the prefecture that have long been LDP strongholds, elderly voters already account for over a third of the population, and many old homes have become abandoned. During his campaign, Ido promised to get more medical assistance to the elderly, and to convert abandoned properties into sports and music facilities.

Ido drew broad support from local chapters of the ruling and some opposition parties. But Nippon Ishin no Kai, headed by neighboring Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, has long had differences with Ido over regional policies for the Union of Kansai Governments. But lack of a suitable candidate meant Nippon Ishin did not field or support its own candidate.