The LDP, led by Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, suffered losses in Tokyo metropolitan elections

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Strong gains for main opposition
in Tokyo metropolitan elections

By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

7 June 2005: Japan’s main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) exceeded its own modest targets and took a record number of seats in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections on 3 July 2005. The losses are being interpreted as a wake-up call for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government of Junichiro Koizumi and have been said to represent the consolidation of the two party system in Japan.
While the DPJ has made an electoral breakthrough, exceeding its own target of winning 30 seats, and is now the second largest party in the assembly, the coalition between the LDP and the lay Buddhist New Komeito remains in place with 71 seats between them. As such, the everyday business of the assembly will go about as usual until the elections for Governor in 2007.
The DPJ’s initial strategy had been to draw attention to the Koizumi government’s worsening relations with Japan’s Asian neighbours and his own repeated visits to the contentious Yakasuni shrine for the war dead. However, on 21 June, the national government’s Tax Commission issued a report calling for the elimination of tax allowances for families. LDP chiefs were said to be furious at the timing of the report, which was immediately seized upon as an election issue by the DPJ. The DPJ will now attempt to focus its efforts towards persuading voters that the any future LDP-led government will raise taxes as a result of the report.
The final tally for the parties was LDP 48 seats (-3), DPJ 35 seats (+16), New Komeito 23 seats (no change), Japanese Communist Party 13 seats (-2) and Tokyo Seikatsusha Network three seats (-3), with the others going to independents. The Social Democratic Party, which is the sister party of the British Labour Party, failed to win any seats. The number of women sitting in the assembly increased from 19 to 22 as a result.
Turnout in the election stood at 44 per cent down from the 50 per cent in the last assembly elections in 2001. One official told City Mayors that they had feared the turnout could be lower than the 41 per cent level registered in the 1997 assembly elections, the worst showing in the city since the war.

National issues under scrutiny
in Tokyo metropolitan elections
Both of Japan’s main parties are seeking to turn the 3 July 2005 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections into a referendum on Prime Minister Koizumi’s handling of a number of controversial policy areas. His ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is seeking a fresh mandate and momentum for its controversial reforms of the Japanese public sector, including privatisation of the country’s postal services, while the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) hopes to capitalise on discontent with the national administration.

"This is an important election that will decide the direction Japan should take," Tsutomo Takebe, a senior LDP official told party members in Tokyo at a rally to mark the start of his party’s campaign. "In order to see through Koizumi's reforms, which are intended to shift government works to the private sector, it is important to defeat Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) in this Tokyo metropolitan assembly election," he added.

To argue that any nation stands at a crossroads might come across as naïve cliché but in the case of Japan’s current predicament it is entirely apt. The LDP administration of Junichiro Koizumi places great emphasis on its plans to privatise the postal service as part of its drive to eliminate government expenditure in a bloated public sector. There is also the issue of Japan’s place not only in the South East Asian region but in the world at large, with a bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council in the offing and the frosty relations with not only China but North and South Korea. Recent months have seen anti-Japanese riots in China, inflamed by revisions to Japanese history texts in schools dealing with the country’s conduct in World War II and Mr Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine to Japan’s war dead, which houses 14 Class A war criminals. Therefore the main parties are using this plethora of national issues to set out their stalls in the Tokyo elections, the LDP viewing postal privatisation as necessary and taking a more belligerent stance on foreign policy, while the DJP stands firmly opposed to privatisation and urges a more cautious and conciliatory tone in dealings with China and the Koreas.

While the government of Mr Koizumi may be enjoying lower ratings in the opinion polls than at the last Assembly election in 2001, many LDP candidates are seeking to associate themselves with the city’s popular yet controversial Governor, Shintaro Ishihara. Although no longer a member of the LDP himself, Governor Ishihara will be banking on a decent performance from the party’s candidates to retain allies in the Assembly. The LDP themselves are hoping that voters will think of Governor Ishihara’s record rather than Mr Koizumi’s when they cast their ballot, while the DJP argue that their slate of candidates represents a younger and more professional face for the party.

The national factor has been boosted by the issuing of election manifestos for the election, something of a novel concept in Japan. The DJP’s ‘Tokyo Manifest 2005’ promises to exempt quake-proofing costs from fixed property taxes for all houses; to let 10 per cent of Tokyo's 2,000 elementary and junior high schools hire principals of their choice; and to cut the cost of waterworks management by 100 billion yen per year. The party have also taken an innovative approach by publishing their manifesto on their website and then inviting comments from voters. Having done so, they have amended the document twice so far to reflect voters’ concerns.

The LDP, on the other hand, issued their ‘Tokyo Green Program 21’, which stands at 100 pages in length. Among its proposals are measures to tackle the so-called ‘heat island phenomenon’ and provide investment for public order and transport infrastructure.

The tally of party representation in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly at present stands at LDP 51 seats, New Komeito 21, DJP 19 and the Japanese Communist Party 15.  A total of 220 candidates are fighting for 127 seats available. The LDP is fielding 57 candidates, New Komeito 23, DJP 51 and the JCP 43. A new local party, the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network, is also contesting the elections.

Japanese parties regard Tokyo election
as dress rehearsal for national contest

The 2005 elections for Tokyo's Metropolitan Assembly, the city-wide council for the Tokyo metro area, may have more significance for Japanese politics than just another scheduled municipal election. The elections, which will be held on 3 July, are being treated as a dry run by the national political parties in advance of the next General Election. Currently the Metropolitan Assembly is dominated by Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which consolidated its 2001 gains in Tokyo in subsequent national elections to both houses of Japan's legislature, the Diet.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) will be looking to make impressive gains next month to demonstrate its potential to mount a bid to remove the Diet from the grip of the LDP, who have dominated the political landscape in Japan since its creation in 1955. In last year's elections to the upper house of the Diet, the DJP substantially overtook the LDP and LDP chiefs worry that it could repeat this performance in the Assembly vote this year and sustain this momentum in a national poll. The LDP's performance is likely to be affected in a number of Tokyo divisions where it is in direct competition with its national coalition partners, the New Komeito.

The importance attached to the Assembly election by the DJP is shown in its decision to divert its campaign resources to the poll and publish a manifesto for its candidates, part of which is devoted to stirring up discontent over the LDP's links to certain political sects and vested interests. All opposition parties, including the left-leaning Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, are hoping that public disaffection with the economic reforms of the LDP-led Prime Minister Koizumi government at national level will enable them to make gains in the Tokyo Assembly.

An Assembly with a reduced LDP presence could make the life of the independent Governor Shinato Ishihara more difficult as the current Assembly is dominated by his former allies in the LDP, of which he was once a leading member.

Following the recent row concerning his being found to have misled a committee of the Metropolitan Assembly, Governor Ishihara has replaced his Vice Governor Takeu Hamauzu. The Vice Governor's depature follows a lengthy investigation by the Assembly, who found Mr Hamauzu guilty of perjury in relation to his denial of arranging for planted questions to be tabled by a DJP Assembly Member. Governor Ishihara received unofficial letters of resignation from Mr Hamauzu's co-Vice Governors and subsequently removed him in acknowledgement of their protest. Mr Hamauzu will depart his post on June 23 and will be appointed outside of the city administration to an auxillary body. In addition to Mr Hamauzu, Masamichi Fukunaga will also stand down as a Vice Governor and both will be replaced by two senior officials from the city administration, Yokichi Yokoyama, head of the Metropolitan Education Office, and Yasuo Sekiya, chief of the Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs. 

The Hamauzu row is said to have to come prominence because of the former Vice Governor's style of working, which allegedly involved keeping city officials away from the Governor as much as possible. The Governor's infamous disdain for bureaucrats is said to stem from his belief that his predecessor as Governor, Yukio Aoshima, was unable to implement his policies because of the dominance of bureaucrats and as such he instructed Hamauzu to take control over the bureaucracy on his behalf. A Japanese Communist Party motion attempting to censure Governor Ishihara for his alleged role in the affair was defeated by LDP and New Komeito Assembly members, while the DJP was reluctant to involve itself in the censure attempt because of the involvement of one of its own Assembly members. With the row effectively settled, efforts will now shift to the elections themselves.

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