Issues other than Games, COVID-19 must be debated in Tokyo campaigns

The Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to open next month, and novel coronavirus measures are the biggest issues in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election — but they are not the only issues. Broad discussions on how to envision the future of the nation’s capital must be engaged.

Campaigning for the metropolitan assembly election has kicked off. The focus of the election will be on whether Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites first group), a regional political party founded by Gov. Yuriko Koike, will maintain its strength, and whether the Liberal Democratic Party, which sank to a record low number of seats four years ago, will win a majority of seats along with Komeito.

In the previous election, Koike took a confrontational stance against the LDP and led Tomin First to an overwhelming victory. This time, she has not made her support clear, partly because she fell ill just before the start of official campaigning. Some think her restraint is out of consideration for the government and the LDP.

The metropolitan assembly election is seen as a prelude to the House of Representatives election, which will be held by autumn. The support rate for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet has dropped by half from 74% at the time of its formation. The outcome of the Tokyo election is expected to have a certain impact on the prime minister’s unifying force.

This time, the biggest concern must be novel coronavirus measures. Although the latest state of emergency declared in Tokyo has been lifted, the infection situation remains unpredictable. Many people are exhausted due to the repeated requests to restaurants, bars and other establishments to suspend operations or shorten opening hours.

Each party has included infection and economic measures in their campaign pledges. To dispel the concerns of Tokyo residents, it is necessary for each of the parties to convey their policies that address issues beyond immediate measures into the post-pandemic period.

With regard to the Olympics, the positions of the parties are clearly different. While Tomin First has pledged to have no spectators at venues, the LDP and Komeito, which are determined to hold the Games, have not included a stance in their campaign pledges. The Japanese Communist Party is calling for the cancellation of the Games, while the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is calling for postponement or cancellation.

The central government and the metropolitan government have decided to hold the Olympics with spectators. Each candidate needs to present concrete measures on how they will ensure the safety of the people of Tokyo.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly is supposed to watch the policies and budget of the metropolitan government, but it has often been criticized as being nothing more than a rubber-stamp body for the governor. During the past four years, has the metropolitan assembly fulfilled its function as a check on Koike? The election should provide an opportunity to discuss the role of the assembly as well.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, election campaigning is constrained. Such activities as public debates have been canceled. Tokyo politics involves a wide range of issues, such as the low birth rate and aging population as well as how to deal with an earthquake that could occur with its focus under Tokyo. Voters need to pay attention to these issues to cast their votes.

Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, such people as those recuperating from COVID-19 at home will be able to vote by mail for the first time in Japan.

It is significant that an environment has been created to ensure that people who are restricted from going out have the opportunity to vote. It is necessary for each election commission to inform the public about the system and take measures to prevent such fraud as voter impersonation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 26, 2021.