How can regional vitality be maintained amid the ongoing deterioration caused by population decline? Unified local elections must be used as opportunities to discuss concrete measures to achieve this goal.
Campaigning for gubernatorial elections in 11 prefectures, including Hokkaido and Fukuoka, has officially started, kicking off quadrennial unified local elections. Campaigns for three other types of elections, including those of 41 prefectural assemblies, will begin in succession thereafter. The voting for these polls is set for April 7. The voting for the second half of the unified local elections — to elect mayors and assembly members of cities, wards, towns and villages — is set for April 21.
Among the 11 gubernatorial elections, Hokkaido is the only prefecture in which opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People, have cooperated to field a joint candidate.
They failed to set the stage for confrontation with the ruling parties in more populous prefectures. Their lack of presence is undeniable. An urgent task for them is to steadily boost the number of their supporters and thus strengthen the foundation for their regional organizations.
Multiple candidates affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party are running for governor in Fukui, Shimane, Tokushima and Fukuoka prefectures, illustrating a split in the conservative camp. This underscores that leadership struggles have been intensifying within the LDP amid a political landscape dominated by the party.
In Osaka Prefecture, four elections will be held to elect a governor, a mayor and municipal and prefectural assembly members.
Osaka Ishin no Kai, a regional party, said that it would ask voters whether they support its idea of dismantling and realigning the city of Osaka to establish a governing system similar to that of Tokyo.
If elections are fought on a single issue, it may relegate discussions on other administrative agenda items — including disaster prevention, welfare and the international exposition to be hosted by Osaka — to the back burner. It is necessary for political parties to compete in discussions on a wide range of policy issues.
Local assembly elections are to be held in 41 prefectures and more than 700 cities, wards, towns and villages.
Raise interest in local politics
Local assemblies are supposed to take charge of local politics along with heads of municipalities, but they have long been mocked as rubber stamps for the municipality heads. The stagnation of local politics cannot be overcome unless assemblies brush up on their policymaking capabilities and enhance their function of monitoring administrative organs.
It is also essential to ensure that there are people with the potential to become assembly members. A wide spectrum of people, including young people and women, aim to become assembly members. It is important to prepare the environment for them to achieve their goals. It is necessary to consider flexible assembly management methods, such as holding sessions at night and on holidays.
The number of assembly members elected unopposed has been increasing. If this trend continues, it is worth studying reducing the number of assembly members. Discussions should be conducted actively on the way local assemblies should be.
Circumstances surrounding local autonomy are severe. Individual political parties and candidates must promote concrete measures on how to carry out industrial promotion and ensure administrative services such as education and medical treatment.
This will be the first time for unified local elections to be held since people aged 18 and 19 were granted suffrage. Therefore, policy debates with future prospects in sight are called for.
The decline in public attention to unified local elections is egregious. With no brake on falling voter turnout, the average voter turnout for both gubernatorial and prefectural assembly elections in 2015 stood in the 40 percent level, breaking previous low records.
Voters should take an interest in local politics, which is connected directly with their livelihood, and exercise their right to vote.