Tokyo Gubernatorial Election Campaign Starts: Weight of Single Vote to Be Tested in Wild Race with Many Candidates

Campaigning has officially begun for the Tokyo gubernatorial election, an unprecedented race with more than 50 candidates. To whom will voters entrust the future of the capital? It is hoped that voters will cast their important vote by determining the content and feasibility of the candidates’ policies.

Candidates include Yuriko Koike, who is seeking a third term as governor; Renho, a former member of the House of Councillors; Shinji Ishimaru, former mayor of Akitakata, Hiroshima Prefecture; and Toshio Tamogami, former chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force. Votes will be cast and counted on the day of the election, set for July 7. The first point of contention will be the evaluation of Koike’s metropolitan government.

During her second term, Koike faced an outbreak of the novel coronavirus and called for the prevention of the spread of the infection by issuing such warnings as avoiding the so-called Three Cs — closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings. The metropolitan government took its own measures, including providing cooperation money to businesses that complied with its request to suspend operations.

Although the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics ended successfully, scandals involving corruption and bid rigging came to light after the Games closed.

In addition to assessing Koike’s ability in crisis management and organizational governance, there is a mountain of challenges for the future.

Last year, the total fertility rate in Tokyo dropped below 1. The acceleration of the declining birth rate is particularly serious.

Koike has so far implemented such programs as providing a monthly benefit of ¥5,000 for children. This time, she has proposed expanding free childcare, among other measures.

Meanwhile, Renho, who is considered to be a strong rival of Koike, says she will promote measures to combat the declining birth rate, such as by eliminating the gap between regular and non-regular employment. Other candidates are also emphasizing support for child-rearing. Hopefully they will engage in a thorough debate.

Tokyo’s population, which has reached 14 million as a result of the excessive concentration of people in the capital, is expected to start declining in 2030, and one out of four people in Tokyo will likely be aged 65 or older in 2035. It is essential to improve medical and nursing care systems.

Disaster preparedness, including for earthquakes that could occur directly under the metropolitan area, also needs to be immediately addressed. It is important for each candidate to present a concrete vision of their goal for Tokyo, including financial resources.

A record number of 56 candidates are running in the election this time. Of these, 24 are candidates affiliated with the political group the NHK Party.

It is unprecedented for a single political organization to field so many candidates in an election to choose the head of a local government.

Moreover, the group says it will transfer the right to put up posters in its spaces on billboards to those who donate to the group. In elections, public funds are spent on billboards and seven kinds of campaign items, including displays.

Since elections are the foundation of democracy, voters shoulder a portion of the costs. Actions that appear to use elections as money-making and publicity stunts mock the voters.

The ruling and opposition parties should speed up efforts to enact legislation to prevent a recurrence of these actions. How will voters judge such actions? The voting behavior of every single voter will also be tested.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 21, 2024)