KYOTO – Kyoto voters cast their ballots for the status quo and closer relations with Tokyo on Sunday, electing a candidate with strong ties to the central government who promised to continue the policies of the previous governor and who was backed by all major political parties except the Japanese Communist Party.
Takatoshi Nishiwaki, 62, a former high-level Reconstruction Agency and transport ministry bureaucrat who was the hand-picked successor to the outgoing governor, Keiji Yamada, easily defeated Kazuhito Fukuyama, 57, a lawyer who had the support of the JCP and attempted to build a citizens’ movement.
Voter turnout was 35.17 percent, the second-lowest on record.
“Despite the fact that I entered the race only a couple of months before the election, I had the support of a broad number of people and political parties who held Yamada in high regard. I’ll continue his policies and move them forward,” Nishiwaki told supporters Sunday evening at his campaign headquarters.
Yamada, who has also headed the National Governors’ Association, decided to retire after 16 years, saying he had largely accomplished his goals. But he is believed to be eyeing a run for the Diet, possibly as early as next year’s scheduled Upper House election.
“With Nishiwaki’s election, my work is done,” Yamada said Sunday night.
In his concession speech, Fukuyama said that while he offered detailed policy proposals, Nishiwaki refused to engage him in constructive debate.
With Nishiwaki’s victory, Kyoto has a governor who is expected to use his Tokyo connections to influence national decisions on four major projects involving the prefecture.
The first concern is the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line. Construction of a new section that will connect the city of Obama, Fukui Prefecture, with Kyoto Station is expected to begin next year and take at least two decades.
But controversy over where in Kyoto Prefecture the train should stop before it reaches Kyoto Station, and whether the estimated minimum ¥2.1 trillion construction cost for the extension is worth it, is growing among both the project’s supporters and opponents.
A Kyoto Shimbun survey last week showed only 34.9 percent of respondents backed the current plan and budget, which is favored by Nishiwaki.
Meanwhile, 31.6 percent said the Kyoto extension is too expensive and needs to be renegotiated. Another 14.2 percent said the project is unnecessary and should be scrapped.
The second project Nishiwaki will deal with is the relocation of most of the Cultural Affairs Agency to the city of Kyoto by 2022.
Ensuring that the agency’s relocation from Tokyo also financially benefits the rest of Kyoto Prefecture is a top concern for other cities and towns, as they are seeking to lure domestic and international tourists away from the well-known cultural attractions of the prefectural capital.
A third priority for the incoming governor will be to continue upgrading and expanding Maizuru port, a major international harbor.
Yamada made this a top priority during his tenure.
Finally, Kyoto’s “twin capitals” concept, in which at least some members of the Imperial family come to live long-term in Kyoto and participate in more ceremonies related to traditional culture, will require Nishiwaki’s support. The idea is strongly backed by the city’s political and business leaders and by other local governments in the Kansai region.
Kyoto hopes to accomplish this goal by 2040.
On a more fundamental level, the governor must also develop policies to deal with a shrinking, elderly population.
A report released earlier this year by the National Institution of Population and Social Security Research estimated that Kyoto Prefecture’s current population of about 2.6 million people will decline to 2.1 million by 2045. The number of those aged between 15 and 64 years old will fall from 1.5 million to about 1.1 million.
But 37.8 percent of residents in the prefecture are expected to be 65 years old or older in 2045, and 22 percent are expected to be at least 75 years old by then, the institute’s latest prediction showed.
“Many voters expressed particular concern to me about the declining population and the increase in elderly residents,” Nishiwaki said.