Pandemic anxiety, frustration over Games reflected in Tokyo election

In the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, the combined seats won by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito did not reach a majority. This is probably the result of Tokyoites’ anxiety and frustration with the current political situation, including the measures against the novel coronavirus and the hosting of the Olympics.

The LDP had set a goal of winning a majority of seats together with Komeito in order to take control of the assembly. However, the LDP was not able to gain as much support as it expected.

In the capital, the number of people infected with the virus has started to increase again. The approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga remains at a low level due to factors such as distrust of the administration’s COVID-19 measures, including confusion over vaccinations, and scandals involving LDP members.

The election was seen as a prelude to the House of Representatives election to be held by the autumn. The results of Sunday’s election will inevitably force the LDP to rethink its strategy for the lower house election.

Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites first), a regional political party founded by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, lost seats in the assembly, but competed fiercely with the LDP and other parties in many electoral districts. It can be said the party won support from swing voters by calling for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to be held without spectators.

The Japanese Communist Party, which called for the cancellation of the Olympics, also gained a solid number of votes.

In the election campaign, it was difficult to see any differences in the policies of the parties other than their stances over the Games, and debate did not gain momentum.

In the 2017 election, when Tomin First made a big leap, there was a high level of interest among Tokyo voters and turnout was 51.28%. This time, the turnout is expected to be lower.

Even though campaign activities were limited due to the pandemic, each party should take seriously the fact that campaigning for the election to decide the future of the capital was weak.

The structure of the election battle was also difficult to understand. In the campaign for the previous election, Koike called for reform of the metropolitan assembly and took a confrontational stance against the LDP, creating a “Koike boom.”

This time, she was hospitalized before the start of the official election campaign period and had little opportunity to support Tomin First candidates until the final stages. Some believe that she took into consideration the fact that she received effective support from the LDP during last year’s gubernatorial election and that her relationship with the LDP has been improving.

Komeito, which teamed up with Tomin First in the previous election, this time cooperated with the LDP. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the JCP coordinated their candidates in some electoral districts with a view to cooperating in the lower house election.

The parties’ prioritizing of their own interests, as well as Koike’s stance, may have kept voters away from the polls.

In addition to the Olympics and COVID-19 measures, the Tokyo administration faces a mountain of other issues to deal with, such as the chronically low birth rate and aging population, and measures to deal with a potential earthquake directly under the capital. Koike, who has so far implemented policies with a top-down approach, will need to cooperate with the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in managing the administration of Tokyo.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 5, 2021.