Will latecomer win Tokyo gov. race?

Will latecomer win Tokyo gov. race?
Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose bows during a news conference at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office in Tokyo December 19, 2013.

TOKYO - Ruling and opposition parties have begun working to select their candidates for the Tokyo gubernatorial election that will choose a successor to Gov. Naoki Inose, who announced his resignation Thursday.

Attention is focused on whether announcing one's candidacy later than other hopefuls, and just days before official campaigning starts, might prove as successful as it has in some past elections, observers said.

Given the relatively short period for candidate selection and with the New Year's holidays in between, the key to a successful campaign will be whether the parties can tap good candidates within such a short time, they said. To prove successful in Tokyo, which has more than 10 million eligible voters, parties must garner the votes of people with no party affiliation, as they far outnumber the number of voters affiliated with parties.

In the 1995 gubernatorial election, TV personality-turned-politician Yukio Aoshima beat a candidate supported by multiple parties. In the 1999 poll, which was contested by 19 candidates, Shintaro Ishihara rode his widespread fame as a writer to victory, outperforming a candidate who conducted a well-organised campaign with the backing of multiple parties.

Both these successful candidates joined the race after other candidates and announced they would run just days before official campaigning kicked off.

In last year's gubernatorial election, Inose was also a latecomer, throwing his hat in the ring eight days before campaigning started. Immediately after being tapped by Ishihara as his successor, Inose paid "courtesy calls" to Torao Tokuda, founder and former head of the Tokushukai medical group and a former House of Representatives member, and other influential figures. This came to light in connection with the scandal over Inose's receiving ¥50 million in cash from the scandal-tainted Tokushukai group.

Inose ultimately scored a stunning victory.

Almost all parties want to tap independent candidates who are easy to support.

"Various names will come up and disappear," said a senior metropolitan government official. "Selection will be conducted behind the scenes for the time being."

A leading member of a political party said the party "wants to choose a good candidate before the end of the year to avoid being called a latecomer, but may end up being the latecomer anyway, depending on how things go."

Feb. 9 poll most likely

Speculation is also rife among the parties about the election schedule.

In the wake of Inose's announcement on Thursday that he would resign as governor, it was theoretically possible to set a polling date as early as Jan. 26.

If voting is scheduled for that day, however, the date for officially announcing the election would have to be Jan. 9, which would make it extremely difficult for many in the parties to prepare.

Indications are that the election will most likely fall on Feb. 9.

The date on which the chairman of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly officially informs the metropolitan election administration committee of Inose's resignation is of key importance in setting up the election schedule.

In connection with procedures for the possible establishment of an Article 100 committee with binding power under the Local Government Law to question Inose, an extraordinary plenary session of the metropolitan assembly was scheduled for Friday.

If the assembly chairman had notified the election administration committee on that day of Inose's resignation, it would have made it impossible to conduct voting and vote-counting on Feb. 9.

Some senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party's Tokyo chapter are wary of setting the election for Feb. 2, which they say is too early to make preparations for the gubernatorial contest.

Therefore, the assembly chairman has declared that the notification of the governor's resignation will be conveyed to the election administration committee on Tuesday, Dec. 24.

A veteran LDP member of the Tokyo assembly said with a frown: "A gubernatorial election is always a short-term battle. Plus this Tokyo contest comes around the New Year's holiday period, which is certain to make the period for actual campaigning even shorter."

Compared to Tokyo's past gubernatorial races, the "name recognition and newsworthiness" of candidates will be of even greater importance to their performance this time, he said.

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