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Editorial: Ishin has duty to respond to local concerns about casino project

  • July 30, 2022
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 14:26 p.m.
  • English Press

Nippon Ishin (Japan Renovation Party), the dominant force in Osaka’s political scene, held two municipal referendums on its signature initiative to turn the Osaka area into a bustling metropolis like Tokyo. Both the Osaka governor and Osaka mayor are members of the party, which holds a majority in the prefectural assembly through its local arm. It held a second referendum on the proposal after it was rejected in the first vote.

 

However, the party flatly rejected a call from prefectural residents for a referendum on Osaka’s bid to host a casino-centered integrated resort (IR). The party rightly deserves to be accused of a total lack of consistency and principles in its approach to listening to the voices of its residents.

 

The Osaka prefectural assembly also voted down a proposal to hold a referendum on the local administrations’ plan to build an IR featuring a casino. The proposal made by a citizens group was shot down by Osaka Ishin no Kai, Ishin’s local arm, a move backed by Komeito, the junior partner of the Liberal Democratic Party in the ruling coalition.

 

Before the vote, Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, who heads the local party, said he saw no point in holding a referendum on the issue. He pointed out that the IR project has already been approved by the prefectural assembly, which represents the people in the prefecture, and the local administrations have applied for central government approval of the plan.

 

That is hardly a convincing argument. The petition for a referendum on the IR initiative is supported by nearly 200,000 valid signatures of local voters. The local government chief should respond squarely to the importance of the campaign.

 

The civic campaign for a referendum got startd after it was disclosed that public funds will be used to finance the project to develop an IR in a man-made island in Osaka Bay, even though both the prefectural and municipal governments have promised not to use taxpayer money for the project.

 

At the end of last year, the municipal administration announced it will shell out 79 billion yen ($593 million) to cover all costs for measures against soil liquefaction and contamination. During hearings held to give people an opportunity to voice their opinions and quiz officials about the project, many participants voiced doubts and concerns. But the local administrations have so far failed to offer convincing answers to their questions.

 

In addition to concern that the planned casino could increase cases of addiction to gambling, there is great uncertainty about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the project. Ishin has turned a deaf ear to totally understandable calls to take the opportunity to stop to rethink the matter.

 

Nippon Ishin, a national party born out of Osaka Ishin, will soon celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding. The party sharply expanded its strength in the Lower House election held last autumn and maintained its political momentum with a strong showing in the Upper House election earlier this month by garnering more votes than the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in the proportional representation segment of the poll. Its short-term goal is to become the largest opposition bloc in the next Lower House election.

 

Ishin should demonstrate a solid commitment to its responsibility to the nation’s voting public in developing policies and choosing candidates.

 

In an apparent attempt to shed its image as a party simply devoted to Osaka’s intertsts, Ishin tried to clarify its vision for the future of the nation in its campaign platform for the Upper House poll. On the issue of security policy, it pledged to revise Article 9 of the Constitution to give constituional legitimacy to the Self-Defense Forces and raise Japan’s defense spending to the level of 2 percent of gross domestic product as key goals and start debate on nuclear sharing.

 

Even though these campaign promises represent radical policy shifts that could steer the nation away from the postwar course it has charted as a result of the wartime atomic bombings, there are no signs that Ishin has developed these policy proposals through extended debate among party members.

 

Campaign speeches by Yoshimura and other top party officials mainly stressed the party’s achievements in Osaka, such as measures to support families with young children.

Ishin should be criticized for behaving in an irresponsible manner if its campaign promises are aimed primarily at attracting conservative voters.

 

A spate of controversial remarks and scandals have dogged Ishin’s lawmakers, local government chiefs and candidates at both national and local levels.

The party is facing a major, high-stakes test of its governance and ability to evaluate the political qualities of its members and candidates.

 

–The Asahi Shimbun, July 30

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