After weeks of scheming and squabbling, the cast now appears all set. If the Tokyo gubernatorial election were a soap opera, few people would worry too much about the script, as long as the lineup of stars passed muster. But the choice of a governor for a metropolis with a population of 11 million is too serious a business to be reduced to a mere political show.
During the past four years, Tokyo has learned the hard way: Pop-star qualities and the skills to play standup comedy are no answer to real-life problems. Policymaking is different from sloganeering and leadership involves more than feel-good speeches.
With the national economy reeling and metropolitan finances in a state of near-collapse, the people of Tokyo must demand more substance from politicians and political parties soliciting our votes. If the preview so far is any guide, the offer is anything but promising. The way how the ruling Liberal Democratic Party chose its candidate is particularly troubling.
For months, the LDP had been scouting for a possible heavyweight to lead a challenge against the incumbent governor. There were few takers, as politicians know the perils of taking on a well-entrenched incumbent. Hell broke loose, however, as soon as Gov. Yukio Aoshima announced that he would not seek a second term. Suddenly, a candidacy that had been considered a sacrificial lamb would have a chance to become the real prince in the governor’s mansion.
For Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, the governorship offered the allure of a new political lifeline. The Diet makeup being what it is, he desperately needs the cooperation of New Komeito, the second-largest opposition party. In the scurry to find someone acceptable to Komeito supporters, the LDP settled on Mr. Yasushi Akashi, the former United Nations undersecretary general who is best known for his success in helping bring peace to Cambodia. Mr. Akashi’s image as peacemaker supposedly appeals to Komeito, a major player in Tokyo metropolitan politics.
Faced with this new political possibility, LDP bosses saw no compunction in dumping the man who had been given the understanding that he would receive the party blessing. In defiance and anger, Mr. Koji Kakizawa, the jilted LDP Lower House member and a former foreign minister, has decided to to throw his hat in the ring anyway. Though not the parliamentary Komeito’s choice, Mr. Kakizawa, too, has the backing of Komeito-affiliated members in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly.
But what can the Tokyo electorate expect from Mr. Akashi, the new LDP darling? Having spent his career mostly outside Japan, is Mr. Akashi ready for the complex domestic problems faced by Tokyo? Does he have the right political connections to do the horse-trading and deal-making that he must eventually conclude? True, Mr. Akashi had little trouble surviving the minefields in Cambodia, but mudslinging and foot-pulling in the fractious LDP is a totally different matter.
That leaves Mr. Kunio Hatoyama, the scion of a powerful political clan in Tokyo and former deputy leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, as the remaining heavyweight in the Tokyo gubernatorial race. With the conservative vote split and the LDP ranks in an uproar, Mr. Hatoyama looks like he may be the man to beat. He formally quit the DPJ on Friday in order to run as an “independent.”
Rounding up the prospective list of candidates will be Mr. Yoichi Masuzoe, an international relations scholar and frequent TV personality; Mr. Chimpei Nozue, a former Upper House member and populist known for his perennial calls to overhaul the tax system; and Mr. Mitsuru Mikami, a critic on education issues who is backed by the Japanese Communist Party.
Without exception, all the gubernatorial hopefuls call for the rebirth of Tokyo as an international metropolis and fiscal reform. But it is also crystal clear that all of them are still scrambling for a suitable message that would encompass what the people want to hear. Ultimately, their fate will depend on whether Tokyo voters have learned their lesson well.
With less than two months to go before election day, the very least Tokyo voters should demand from every prospective candidate is a concrete, viable platform on how to put the metropolitan government’s finances back on their feet. We need to make sacrifices, but our choice must be based, not on empty promises and eye-catching slogans, but cold, hard and even unpleasant facts, which should be followed by realistic, practicable proposals. Otherwise, we will have nothing left but a boring show with very painful consequences for four more years.
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