Lack of Candidates for Office Accelerates Decline in Regional Areas

The lack of qualified people who want to become local government leaders and assembly members is accelerating the decline of local communities. The central and local governments must seriously consider effective measures to secure human resources to deal with this situation.

The second half of the nationwide unified local elections has ended. Leaders and assembly members have been chosen for some municipalities other than ordinance-designated large cities, as well as for some Tokyo wards.

Many local governments are facing the difficult challenges of aging and depopulation. A key question in the elections was how to solve these problems and revitalize local regions.

It is unfortunate that there were many uncontested elections in the second half, as there also were in the first half of the unified local elections, which included prefectural assembly elections.

Of the 373 town and village assembly elections held in the second half, 123 were uncontested. The number of uncontested winners was 1,250, accounting for a record 30% of the total number of assembly seats up for grabs. In 20 of these towns and villages in such prefectures as Hokkaido and Kochi Prefecture, there were fewer candidates than the total number of seats in each municipality.

Also uncontested were 25 city mayoral elections, or nearly 30% of the city mayoral elections in the second half, and 70 town and village mayoral elections, or over 50% of all the town and village mayoral elections.

This is a serious situation in which many voters lost the opportunity to cast their ballots. If candidates do not have the opportunity to vie with each over their beliefs and policies, the quality of mayors and assembly members may deteriorate. Residents’ interest in local polities is also likely to wane.

Even as the population continues to decline, it is an important issue to secure the right people to lead a local government. Each local government must devise ways to reform the management of assemblies and other matters.

The assembly of the village of Takagi, Nagano Prefecture, has been holding meetings on evenings and holidays to encourage the participation of young people who are working or raising children. The town assembly of Shika, Ishikawa Prefecture, raised members’ remuneration by about ¥70,000. The number of assembly seats was reduced to gain the understanding of local residents for this measure.

Such steps must be expanded to other areas to create an environment in which a diverse range of people can become involved in local politics.

Under the 2020 revision of the Public Offices Election Law, a program in which the cost of campaign vehicles and leaflets can be covered by public funds was expanded to apply to village and town assembly elections. About 90% of towns and villages have already established ordinances to introduce the program.

However, some towns and villages are reluctant to introduce this publicly funded election support program due to financial difficulties. It is important for the central government to support municipalities that have a weak financial base and encourage them to utilize the system.

Urban areas have seen positive developments in which women and young people are participating in politics. Women were elected mayors of Tokyo’s Toshima Ward and two other wards, marking a record six for the total number of female mayors in Tokyo’s 23 wards. The city of Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, elected the youngest city mayor in Japan’s history, who is just 26 years old.

Attention will be focused on whether those leaders will be able to promote such issues as childcare support, welfare and industrial development from a new perspective.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 25, 2023)