National / Politics | ANALYSIS

Ex-Vice Gov. Konishi tapped by LDP to run for Osaka governor after actor Takuro Tatsumi says no

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Former Osaka Vice Gov. Tadakazu Konishi agreed Monday to be the Liberal Democratic Party candidate for governor in next month’s election, ending a frantic search to find a candidate.

But local political and business leaders remain concerned about who will support him and what Osaka’s chaotic political situation now means not only for local politics but also the economy, as well as local preparations for major international events like June’s Group of 20 Leaders’ Summit.

“I am entering the race because I’m not convinced of (the wisdom of) the public offices of governor and mayor being used to carry out an election,” Konishi said at a news conference Friday evening to announce his candidacy.

He will run against Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura from Osaka Ishin no Kai. Yoshimura and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, the head of Osaka Ishin, announced their resignations Friday and will run for each other’s post in elections next month, in a bid to seek voters’ verdict on the party’s push for merging Osaka’s 24 wards. With the LDP’s choice now set, attention turns to whether Konishi will also draw support from other major parties. In the November 2015 Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections, the LDP candidates had the backing of all other major parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, but lost to Matsui and Yoshimura, who were also supported by many Komeito voters.

How much backing Konishi gets this time from Komeito, which cooperated with Osaka Ishin to form a majority in the prefectural and municipal assemblies but fell out with the party over the Osaka merger plan, is a factor in the race. Konishi told reporters Friday that he has asked for Komeito’s formal support.

How enthusiastically Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who are close to Osaka Ishin leader Matsui, respond to Konishi’s candidacy could also affect his chances.

Konishi became the LDP choice less than a day after actor Takuro Tatsumi declined the party’s request to run in the April 7 election, set to be held the same day voters go to the polls for Osaka mayoral as well as prefectural and municipal assembly elections. Some in the LDP had hoped Tatsumi’s status as a local celebrity would appeal to a broad range of voters, and would be more likely to attract the support of Komeito and other political parties that have opposed efforts by Osaka Ishin to merge Osaka.

Resignations by Matsui and Yoshimura over the Osaka merger, and their decisions to run for each other’s seat, have been greeted with concern — especially from those worried about a potential impact on the G20 Osaka Summit, which will bring over 30 world leaders and 30,000 people to Osaka on June 28-29.

“We hope there will be no effect on the Kansai economy due to the political confusion at this important time of preparations for the 2025 World Expo and the June G20 Summit, and when there are now signs of a decline in business confidence,” said Hiroshi Ozaki, chairman of Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on Friday.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in a speech Sunday, also expressed concern about the effect on G20 efforts.

“If, in a double election, the governor is no longer around, who do you consult with? The mayor? He’s gone as well, making it a problem. I don’t understand having sudden elections or a sudden merger. Isn’t it necessary to have politics that places importance on dealing with the issues right in front of you?,” Kono said at a speech in Osaka on Sunday.

“Minister Kono, The Foreign Ministry, Osaka prefecture and Osaka city have already established a G20 preparation office. More than a year has passed since Osaka was selected as the G20 host and I’ve never had direct consultations with Kono about the G20,” Matsui tweeted in response.

As of Monday, the LDP was still in talks with a number of potential candidates to run for the mayor’s seat. The campaign for the governor’s election kicks off on March 21 and the mayoral campaign begins March 24.