The shortage of people who aspire to become local assembly members is a grave problem. Measures must be taken to encourage a wide variety of people to join the assemblies.
A study group of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry considered how to solve the lack of candidates for municipal assembly members and compiled a list of discussion points. The easing of restrictions on local assembly members’ side businesses is a feature.
Under the Local Autonomy Law, a sole proprietor or an executive of a corporation who receives contracts with local governments is prohibited from becoming an assembly member. The aim is to prevent pork-barreling.
In villages and other places where the population is declining, however, the fact remains that many people sign contracts with local governments for public projects or materials procurement.
With these points in mind, the Local Government System Research Council, an advisory panel to the prime minister, is reportedly considering allowing corporate executives, among others, who have few business dealings with local governments to run in elections.
It is indispensable to establish a mechanism to ensure the fairness of administrative work, including appropriate disclosure of information on transactions with local governments. The central government must carefully move forward in designing a concrete system.
The study group called for a review of the legal system pertaining to labor as to prevent company employees from suffering disadvantages, including being fired or relocated, when they run in an election. If they can return to their job even after losing an election, it would be easier for them to make a decision to run.
In the Liberal Democratic Party, there is the opinion that campaign expenses of town and village assembly elections should be covered in part by public funds.
This will call for revising the current situation in which candidates shoulder the costs of campaign cars and posters. It is worth considering creating an environment where people can run in elections without huge burdens.
It is also significant to reexamine the operation of local assemblies.
The important thing is to enable assembly members to combine their activities and family life by promoting childcare leave and the establishment of nursery schools. Flexible operations such as holding assembly meetings at night and on weekends and holidays will also hopefully spread. Out of consideration of local circumstances, this must be urgently considered.
The average monthly remuneration for a city assembly member is about ¥400,000, while that of a town or village assembly member is approximately ¥200,000.
It seems difficult to make a living from this. Town and village assemblies should discuss ways to improve working conditions with the understanding of local residents.
Amid further depopulation and aging, it is necessary to take advantage of local characteristics to create towns. Local assembly members have an important role to keep an eye on monitoring the administration and to determine policy priorities.
In unified local elections last spring, about one in four town and village assembly elections were held with no contest. Since the beginning of this year as well, a series of local elections across the country have been held without voting taking place. If the number of people who aspire to become local politicians decreases, the quality of assembly members will decline.
The appropriate allocation of assembly members varies depending on each local government. Considering the size of the local population and policy issues, it is necessary to explore what a suitable a local assembly should be based on the actual circumstances.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Apr. 2, 2020.