* Written by Yoichi TAKAHASHI, PPPC Chairman / Kaetsu University Professor
Local Elections will likely be the focus of great interests in 2014
as there is no major national-level election this year. The mayoral
election of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, which was just held on January
19, as well as the February 9 Tokyo gubernatorial race and the
February 23 Yamaguchi gubernatorial election have attracted great
interests so far.
In Nago, incumbent Susumu Inamine, who opposes the Japan-U.S. plan to
relocate the U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, also
in the prefecture, to Nago, was re-elected despite the central
government’s support for another candidate.
In Tokyo, former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa announced candidacy
with support of another anti-nuclear former Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi. The Tokyo governor’s race will likely be between Hosokawa
and LDP-supported Yoichi Masuzoe, former health and labor minister. As
Masuzoe has voiced his no-nuclear stance in the past, the focal point
will be whether to suspend operation of the nuclear reactors
immediately, or in other words, the room for restarting the country’s
nuclear power plants.
Similarly in the Yamaguchi gubernatorial election, it is also the
nuclear issue that will likely be the focal point of the race. This is
because Tetsunari Iida, the vanguard of no-nuke movements, will run
for the election, although a former bureaucrat Muraoka announced to
join the race as expert of local administration.
However, both the policy issues that have been the focal point of
election are the realm of the central government and there is little
thing that local leaders can do about these policies.
On relocation of the U.S. base, the authority to permit the landfill
application (to pave additional aircraft runways) is in hands of the
Okinawa prefectural governor, and it is in the central government’s
responsibility that the actual work is to be implemented. The mayor’s
authority is no more than giving permission on usage of roads or
fishing ports, whose excessive application may cause criticisms as
misuse of mayoral power.
Similarly, with regard to restarting of nuclear power plants, while
the applications for restarting 16 reactors in 9 plants have been
submitted by 7 power companies, it is the Nuclear Regulatory Authority
which examines the applications, and it is only afterward that there
is a process of obtaining consents of the relevant local governments.
While the applications include the ones for 6th and 7th reactors in
Niigata Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plants of Tokyo Electric
Power Co., there is nothing that Tokyo governor can do but to pressure
Niigata prefectural governor not to agree with decisions to restart
these reactors. While it also includes reactor 2 of the Shimane
nuclear power plant, it is a matter of Shimane governor.
Even if candidates get elected with campaign pledges irrelevant to
authority of the office, that influence is no more than that of a
critique and it is only up to the central government whether the
pledge is to be maintained. It is a bit pity that achievements of
campaign pledges to change policies finally depend on the central
government despite public supports in the local elections.
It may be difficult to let local governments to decide such policy
issues as relocation of the U.S. base as it is the matter of national
security. However, since the electricity issue can be solved in a
regional level, there is a possibility that the nuclear power issue
can be debated in the local elections if there is an institution
equivalent with Doshusei (regional governments). Precisely the service
areas of each power company correspond with the areas that should be
covered by Doshu governments.
In any case, there is a fact that backgrounds of 46 prefectural
governors excluding Tokyo are heavily balanced toward former
bureaucrats; perhaps a vivid reflection of the current state that
decentralization has not been accomplished in this country. Among the
46 governors, 25 are former central government officials, while 8 are
from the Diet members, 2 from local politics, 5 from local
administration, 6 from academic or private sector.