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Running as an independent, Shintaro Ishihara overwhelmingly won the Tokyo gubernatorial election, the most closely watched of local elections held nationwide April 11. Voter interest in the election was strong. Despite the inclement weather earlier that day, voter turnout was 58 percent, up 7 percentage points from the previous election.

Of the six major contenders, Ishihara, a former LDP lawmaker, won 1.66 million votes. Kunio Hatoyama, who was backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, was next with 850,000, followed by independent Yoichi Masuzoe with 830,000. Former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi, supported by the Liberal Democratic Party, came in fourth with 690,000 votes, followed by Man Mikami, the Japan Communist Party candidate, with 660,000 and former Foreign Minister Koji Kakizawa with 630,000. Kakizawa was expelled by the LDP when he entered the race against the party’s wishes. Ishihara won 30 percent of the votes, twice as many as Hatoyama. The election results showed that the three independents won more votes than expected, while the three candidates backed by major parties lost badly.

The results also showed that voters were distancing themselves from political parties. Individual candidates’ images and voter appeal had decisive influence on the results. In other words, candidates’ potential leadership abilities to deal with difficulties facing Tokyo and Japan swayed voter judgment. But it is next to impossible to define those leadership abilities.

To be sure, Ishihara’s image-building campaign strategy was extraordinary. He kicked off his campaign with the statement, “I am the elder brother of (the late superstar) Yujiro Ishihara” and the campaign went into full swing with the backing of numerous supporters, including popular entertainers. Other candidates were overwhelmed in street campaigns.

Politically, the title of his book, “The Japan That Can Say No,” gave a strong impetus to his appeal to voters who were unhappy with the nation’s problems at home and abroad that almost defied solutions. In his new job, Gov.-elect Ishihara will face difficulties stemming from his appeal to voters. The final phase of the campaign turned into a contest between top contender Ishihara and his rival Hatoyama. Hatoyama characterized the race as a battle between a “hato” (dove) and a “taka” (hawk), a reference to Ishihara’s nationalist image. Hatoyama received an endorsement from Gov. Yukio Aoshima, who ran as an independent and won the previous election thanks to booming support from voters fed up with the major parties.

But Hatoyama’s strategy of using a dove-hawk analogy did not catch on. Japan’s present problems transcend ideological differences between doves and hawks, and call for decisive, powerful leadership to end “do nothing” politics.

Early in the campaign, Ishihara emphasized his anti-U.S., anti-China nationalist stance. Later, however, he appeared to change his strategy, stressing his determination to give full play to his abilities in order to reform the Tokyo metropolitan administration. However, his knowledge of local and economic problems and leadership in those affairs are unknown.

Metropolitan Tokyo accounts for more than one-tenth of Japan’s population. A major international city, it also accounts for more than 30 percent of the nation’s political, economic and cultural activities. Under such circumstances, attention at home and abroad is focused on the governor-elect’s policies. Considering Ishihara’s past hawkish stance, it is hardly surprising that the United States, China and other Asian countries have all expressed concern over his election.

I hope that Ishihara will give priority to basic plans for administrative reform in the metropolitan government, instead of throwing policy bombshells on Japan’s diplomacy and security. He should try to avoid making statements that could trigger disputes with the U.S. and China. As the leader of a local government, Ishihara should seek to achieve a true decentralization of power by breaking up the present concentration of power in Tokyo. Voters in Japan and Tokyo are dissatisfied with politicians and bureaucrats who cater to special interests. In electing Ishihara, voters were looking for strong leadership — not a dove or a hawk.

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