On Nov. 21 Naoki Inose, the vice governor of Tokyo Prefecture under Shintaro Ishihara, who decided to cut his tenure short and make a run for national office, finally announced his candidacy for the governor’s seat. That contest will be decided in a special election set for Dec. 16, the same date on which the nation will vote for a new Lower House.
Inose, a writer by trade who belongs to no party, is virtually assured of winning because he has not only been endorsed by Ishihara himself, but also by the Liberal Democratic Party, the Komeito, Your Party and, naturally, Nihon Reformation Party, which just absorbed Ishihara’s fledgling Sunrise Party. There will be at least four other candidates running for Tokyo governor, but media say they have almost no chance.
Because Inose is considered a shoo-in, some people are wondering: Why bother with an election? According to the law, if the governor resigns or dies or otherwise leaves office before his or her term is up, an election has to be held to choose a new governor. The vice governor only takes over until an election is held. What bothers some residents of Tokyo is that it costs about ¥5 billion in taxpayer money to hold an election for Tokyo governor, which gives those residents one more reason to resent Ishihara’s capriciousness. He was only 19 months into his fourth term when he quit.
However, it should be noted that the new governor will be elected to a full four-year term, which means the next election will be in December 2016, not April 2015, which is when it would have taken place had Ishihara remained in office. Since vice governors — and there are four — are appointed by the governor after he assumes office, they are not chosen by the people, so rather than let a vice governor take over the remaining time it is considered democratically proper to simply hold a new election when a governor leaves prematurely, which has only happened once before in Tokyo. The problem is that the Tokyo prefectural assembly elections have always been held at the same time as the governor’s poll, but a representative of the Tokyo election authority told us the next assembly elections will take place as previously scheduled, in April 2015, which means the prefecture will now have to pay for two elections rather than one.
The capital’s is by far the most expensive governor’s race in the country, the closest being Osaka’s, which costs about half as much to carry out. Most prefectures spend about ¥1 billion. Much of the money is used for publicity. Since Japan has a resident registration system, citizens do not have to register to vote the way they do in the U.S., but that also means the local government has to send a notification to every eligible voter. A lot of money is also needed to make and erect thousands of signboards for the election and hiring staff to work at polling places. Tokyo has about 10 million eligible voters and the prefecture gets a fair return on its considerable investment. In the last two governor’s elections, the turnout was over 50 percent, which many not sound like much but is pretty good by recent standards. In 2011, only 25 percent of Saitama’s eligible voters turned out to elect that prefecture’s governor. Also, because the election for the Lower House is occurring on the same day, Tokyo may save a bit of money in terms of personnel costs.