Political parties must take urgent steps to overcome regional crisis

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe first set of unified local elections has finished. Regions facing population decline are in a critical situation. Drawing clear future visions and implementing policies in order of priority are responsibilities of political parties.

In Hokkaido, the only prefecture where the ruling and opposition parties directly faced off among 11 gubernatorial elections, the freshman candidate supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito defeated the candidate backed jointly by five opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

The LDP’s campaign strategy of taking advantage of its organizational power while obtaining the support of agricultural bodies and economic circles has proved successful.

The opposition camp, positioning the Hokkaido gubernatorial election as a preliminary battle for this summer’s House of Councillors election, sent their top leaders and other officials to Hokkaido but failed to have their candidate win the election. Given the defeat in a prefecture where there is a relatively broad base of support for opposition parties, including labor unions, the opposition camp finds itself pressed to restructure its election cooperation system.

The latest gubernatorial polls were also characterized by competition between LDP-affiliated conservative candidates. The incumbent governor of Fukui Prefecture who aimed for a fifth straight win was defeated while the incumbent in Tokushima Prefecture was elected to a fifth term. Both candidates faced criticism over running multiple times, but they ended up with completely different results. Fierce campaign battles were also seen in the Shimane and Fukuoka gubernatorial elections.

If ill feelings linger for the LDP’s prefectural organizations in the aftermath of the competition between conservative candidates, it will become a source of worry for the LDP ahead of this summer’s upper house polls.

Osaka Ishin no Kai, a regional party aiming to realize an administrative system similar to that of Tokyo, swept the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections, which had attracted nationwide attention.

Broaden local cooperation

The Osaka regional party adopted a bizarre strategy of fielding the governor — its leader — as its candidate for mayor, and the mayor — also a member of the party — as its candidate for governor. Both won, probably because voters embraced their party’s reformist stance. The LDP-recommended candidate was backed by such parties as the CDPJ and the Japanese Communist Party, but this counterproductively led to some conservative elements withdrawing their support. Criticism over the parties’ “relationship of convenience” is believed to have had an impact on election results.

Osaka Ishin no Kai aims to abolish the city of Osaka and realign it into Osaka Prefecture with a view to dissolving dual administration. But there is strong concern that the quality of administrative services will consequently decline. The party is urged to explain in detail the significance of administrative integration, thus expanding public understanding.

The LDP fielded more than 1,300 candidates in elections for 2,277 seats in 41 prefectural assemblies and showed strong results.

The combined number of candidates fielded by the CDPJ and the Democratic Party for the People fell short of 300, thus giving voters only a faint sense of their presence. They must make steady, ongoing efforts to augment their regional organizations.

In nearly 40 percent of constituencies for prefectural assembly elections, unopposed candidates were elected without voting. The practice was conspicuous in urban constituencies of such cities as Hiroshima and Kyoto. It is imperative to study such measures as improving the treatment of assembly members and making assembly management flexible in order to provide opportunities for a wide range of people to run for local assemblies.

As depopulation progresses in many regional areas, it will become important for measures to be taken over wider administrative areas if such functions as education, disaster prevention and medical treatment are to be maintained.

It is essential to promote tourism that takes advantage of regional features and to proceed strategically with industrial development. Cooperation beyond the boundaries of municipalities is called for in this regard.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 8, 2019)Speech


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