Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Election

As is my habit on voting days, I accompanied The Lawyer to the local elementary school.

The Lawyer stood for a long time in front of the panel of candidate posters. A long time. And the Lawyer was not alone in taking an inordinate amount of time for a study of the 14 faces there.

Finally the Lawyer came to a decision, of sorts.

“I can’t believe it. I don’t have a choice! I might have to vote for the Communist!"

“Why?” I asked, barely containing giggles.

“Well, I have to at least show I want to protect the Constitution!”

* * *

Voting for the Communist in one’s district’s election for members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly will not do anything to protect the Constitution, of course. However, I can commiserate with the Lawyer’s predicament, as well as the couple with two children in tow who were trying to rationalize voting for any one of the 14 candidates, the top four of whom would be elected to the TMD’s 127 member Assembly. Flakes, freaks and fanatics are jostling for what seems to be on the surface a not terrible difficult job, the Assembly being in session less than five months of the year. (Link)

Turnout is likely to be light. It is a lovely day in the TMD, meaning that lots of folks will be heading out for the day. There are no pressing wedge issues and Mayor Inose Naoki is still a new, relatively popular and well-regarded manager (his demonstrated lack of any skills at dealings with non-Japanese being a source of bemusement rather than condemnation). There is a national election in a month’s time, meaning whatever anger issues voters have can be expressed at members of the Diet, rather than lowly, local assemblymen and women.

A few things to keep in mind regarding this local election:

The superlatives - Though the Wikipedia page on the populations of the world’s cities argues otherwise, the TMD, with its 13 million registered residents living on 2,188 square kilometres of landfill, low hills and along dark mountain valleys, is still one of the most populous cities in the world. If it were an independent country it would rank 70th on the world list.
The TMD has the largest economy of any urban unit on earth -- and the third largest economy of any unit of local government , smaller only than the U.S. states of California and Texas. If it were an independent country its GDP would make it the 16th largest economy in the world, in between South Korea and Indonesia. Its 2013 budget is 6.6 trillion yen (USD $64 billion at current exchange rates).

Lukewarm competition The 14 candidates vying for just 4 spots in the above example is outside the norm in terms of competitiveness. In many of the districts over half of those running will win seats. In total, 253 candidates are vying for the 127 spots …which makes the plethora of joke and freak candidacies all the less excusable.

The ruling coalition’s reputation - this is a local election, so it should not mean diddly about national politics. However, the parties have imbued this fight with a great deal of symbolic energy, with members of the Cabinet and the Diet campaigning like crazy on behalf of these local officials.

Given the way the national party popularity opinion polls have been running, the Democratic Party of Japan, which is defending only 44 of the 58 seats it holds, is going to get squelched. The Liberal Democratic Party, having taken back all the old constituencies that sheltered under its “big tent,” will do extremely well. However, since it is only running 59 candidates, it will be in essentially in the same position the DPJ has been. The New Komeito, the LDP’s partner in the ruling coalition, will do well thanks to the large numbers of members of the Soka Gakkai sect living in the TMD. If turnout is light, the New Komeito will do very, very well indeed.

The only way the election will make news is if the LDP-New Komeito victory is less-than-overwhelming. If the ruling coalition fails to extirpate the DPJ and/or if mini-parties like the Japan Restoration Party or the Your Party do well, then pundits and prognosticators can start promoting a “the public is not convinced” narrative regarding the Abe Cabinet’s policies, particularly the Three Arrows of Abenomics.

Hashimoto Toru and his movement - The election is supposedly also a mid-term referendum on the Osaka City mayor’s co-leadership of the JRP. Hashimoto has intimated that if the party performs as national polls indicate, which is miserably, he will have think about resigning with having seriously damaged his movement’s viability. Just how this state of affairs came into being -- that the Osakan co-leader of an anti-Tokyo populist movement is on the hook for how the party performs in a Tokyo election, while the co-leader who is a Tokyo resident is not -- is a thing of wonder.

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