Tokyo, Aug. 1 (Jiji Press)–The Aug. 22 mayoral election in Yokohama, the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, is becoming the focus of attention in Japan’s political world.
A total of nine people are expected to run in the election, for which the official campaign period will start Aug. 8.
The result of the poll may affect the following leadership race of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the election for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, political watchers said. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, also LDP president, has been elected to the Lower House from the Kanagawa No. 2 constituency, which comprises parts of Yokohama.
The LDP’s chapter in Yokohama has decided to allow its members to vote for candidates of their choice in the mayoral election.
But Suga, in a rare move, has clarified his stance of supporting former National Public Safety Commission Chairman Hachiro Okonogi, a 56-year-old LDP member.
“I will offer full-fledged support for Mr. Okonogi’s political activities,” Suga said in an interview with Okonogi, held July 14 as part of the party’s election publicity activities. The interview was published in a community newspaper Thursday.
In late June, Okonogi resigned as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission of the Suga cabinet and expressed his intention to run in the Yokohama mayoral election.
Okonogi, also former chief of the LDP’s Kanagawa prefectural chapter, has vowed to cancel Yokohama’s plan to host a casino-featuring integrated resort although the Suga government is pushing for its integrated resort strategy, giving rise to speculation that Okonogi has decided to part with Suga.
In mid-July, incumbent Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, 75, who is now in her third term, announced her plan to throw her hat in the ring for a fourth term, reiterating her resolve to invite an integrated resort to the major port city. She has been supported by the LDP.
LDP members in the Yokohama city assembly and local business leaders have been divided between the Okonogi and Hayashi camps.
Suga, who has been promoting the integrated resort strategy since he was chief cabinet secretary, the key cabinet post in which he served until September 2020, said in the July 14 interview with Okonogi that he was “embarrassed” by Okonogi’s bid to run in the Yokohama mayoral election. Okonogi has been a key ally of Suga, with the former serving as chief for the latter’s campaigning in the LDP’s leadership election last September.
When Okonogi informed Suga in late May of his plan to join the Yokohama race, the prime minister showed no particular response, according to informed sources.
But Suga later opted to support Okonogi, apparently putting weight on their long-time friendship. Suga has served as secretary to former construction minister Hikosaburo Okonogi, father of Okonogi.
Among possible candidates other than Okonogi and Hayashi in the Yokohama race are Takeharu Yamanaka, 48, former professor at Yokohama City University, who is set to be backed by the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, former Kanagawa Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa, 63, now a member of the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of the Diet, who belongs to opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), and Yasuo Tanaka, 65, former governor of the central Japan prefecture of Nagano.
Under the public offices election law, a runoff will be held if no candidate collects a fourth or more of all valid votes cast. With as many as nine people seen running in the Yokohama race, it would be possible for the election to result in a runoff, analysts said.
In the July 4 Tokyo metropolitan assembly election, the LDP won only 33 of the 127 seats, the second fewest number of seats the party has secured in a poll for the assembly of the Japanese capital.
If the result of the Yokohama mayoral election proves unfavorable for Suga, his leadership skills could be called into question ahead of the LDP leadership poll and the Lower House election, critics said.