I was not surprised at all by Shintaro Ishihara’s overwhelming victory in the April 11 Tokyo gubernatorial election. Several journalist friends of mine and I had correctly predicted the election results, including the order of all the major candidates by the number of votes. More than anything else, Ishihara’s charisma attracted voters, who were hoping that he would bring dynamic changes to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The victory by the former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker came amid widespread public anxiety over the future, increasing calls for strong political leadership, and rampant voter distrust of established political parties in national and local politics.
It is uncertain if Ishihara will meet voters’ expectations of drastic reforms. He appears to be confused about his roles in national and local politics. A former state minister, Ishihara has no experience in local government affairs. No matter what he does to drum up support for his reform plans, Ishihara is likely to face serious difficulties in tackling the mountains of problems facing the metropolitan administration.
He obviously made many of his election promises on the spur of the moment or out of an obsession with some pet projects. But his resolve to change Tokyo as the first step to reforming the nation struck the right chord in the voters’ hearts.
Ishihara took advantage of his popular appeal as the brother of the late superstar Yujiro Ishihara and as a famous Akutagawa Prize-winning novelist. Many voters did not like him for exploiting that image. Ishihara’s campaign strategy was highly successful, however, changing the image of a hardline nationalist into that of a potential governor who could work wonders.
His confidants include noted conservative political commentators, his son Nobuteru and younger business executives. LDP lawmaker Nobuteru Ishihara captured public attention as one of a new breed of policy experts during Diet proceedings on banking reform.
I believe that the senior Ishihara owes a great deal to his advisers in coming up with his proposals for reform of the metropolitan administration. These include plans to balance the budget on the basis of specific asset and liability estimates, to write off fiscal deficits by selling Tokyo government-owned shares and real estate properties, and to create a metropolitan bond market to trade bonds issued by smaller companies. These proposals, made without careful analysis, could end up as mere theories. I am concerned about the apparent lack of local affairs experts among his advisers.
History shows that Shimpei Goto, who took office as Tokyo mayor nearly 80 years ago, had a group of competent advisers. Goto announced a bold city development plan on the basis of a six-month study that he had commissioned American urban planning expert Charles Beard to conduct in Tokyo. Goto was unable to realize all of his goals in his lifetime, due to opposition from shortsighted critics. But most of his dreams have come true by now.
In the 1870s, a government mission led by senior minister Iwakura Tomomi — who played an important role in the Meiji Restoration — visited the United States and European countries in 22 months. The mission compiled a detailed report on political, economic, military, industrial and educational systems in those countries. The report also dealt with infrastructure in big cities, including streets, waterworks and parks. The report shows that politicians and bureaucrats in those days had in-depth understanding of and strong enthusiasm for city planning. I hope that Ishihara will remember the feats of those early city planners in his new job.
On his first day as governor, Ishihara reportedly was stunned by the lack of sense of crisis among metropolitan government officials over Tokyo’s future. He was correct in emphasizing the limitations of the national bureaucracy centralized in Tokyo and the need to nurture an individualistic local government. However, unless he has a firm grasp of and deep insights into metropolitan affairs, he will be powerless against the bureaucrats, just as his predecessor Yukio Aoshima was. He should urgently form a group of outside experts to advise him. By doing so, he will be able to keep a safe distance from the bureaucrats.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is expected to be almost bankrupt in fiscal 1999 and, barring drastic reform efforts, is likely to incur a revenue shortfall of 620 billion yen in fiscal 2000. Ishihara will face a tough challenge in the fiscal reform and downsizing of his government. I believe that he should have the metropolitan government transfer as much power, projects and personnel as possible to Tokyo’s 23 wards in fiscal 2000, when they gain a citylike status for more autonomy. The metropolitan government has been overprotective of the wards.
The metropolitan government should specialize in overall policy planning as the umbrella authority for the entire metropolitan region. It should draw on the wisdom of its advisory panels and cooperate with authorities of surrounding prefectures to work out area-wide plans for dealing with earthquakes and other disasters. At the same time, it should improve Tokyo’s infrastructure to make it more attractive as a major international city. Tokyo faces more pressing problems than the Ishihara-proposed joint use of the U.S. Yokota Air Force Base for commercial airline flights.
Ishihara should also try to eliminate the special-interest groups that have contributed to Tokyo’s fiscal problems. By subsidizing more work by private businesses, Ishihara could facilitate fiscal reconstruction of the government.
I have no objections to Ishihara’s proposal to create a metropolitan bond market, but as governor, he should be careful in intervening into state policies, as he should be in holding forth on national security policies.
Tokyoites were wiser in electing Ishihara governor than Osakans, who re-elected Gov. “Knock” Yokohama, who is endowed with little intellect. The Japan Communist Party was the only established party that fielded its own candidate against Yokoyama, a former comedian, in the Osaka election. I am disturbed by the powerlessness of the other established parties.
A governor with little insight can be manipulated by special-interest groups. Candidates jointly backed by the LDP and opposition parties dominated local elections outside Tokyo, which were controlled by special-interest groups linked with established parties. National politics based on corrupt local politics could lose the impetus for reform under pressure from forces favoring the status quo.
In big cities, tax revenues exceed public-works spending, and the reverse is true in outlying areas. This is the reason why reform-minded Tokyoites elected Ishihara governor, despite their dislike of “hawks.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.