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Top>Opinion>Tokyo’s Koike Administration So Far and Its First Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Elections


Tokyo’s Koike Administration So Far and Its First Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Elections

Nobuo Sasaki
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Public administration, local self-government

Read in Japanese

Koike’s “Visualization” Strategy

For the Tokyo metropolitan government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections have the significance of a mid-term election. Due to the irregular way in which the current Tokyo Governor took office, the timing is off slightly compared to previous elections, which have generally fallen halfway through the Governor’s term. Nevertheless, when the 20th Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections take place on July 2, they will serve as a report card for the first year of Governor Yuriko Koike’s administration, and as an important predictor of the administration’s fate going forward. They could even provide an advance indicator for the outcomes of the next national government elections.

At a press conference to explain her administration’s 14-trillion yen budget, holding the two small animal toys, “Mary” and “Harry,” the budget’s “mascot characters” in her hand, Tokyo Governor, Yuriko Koike exuded her usual confidence. These props were apparently meant to signify the meri-hari, or “to get the priorities right, clearly weighing each priority against another” that would be brought to this year’s budget. This very resourceful ploy was a typical example of Koike’s style of appearing before the media on a daily basis, providing an almost constant drip-feed of topics for the media to cover. The concept is certainly an interesting way of gaining the public’s attention, but is it really appropriate for the top executive of such a massive organization? Posing problems is one thing, but will they be able to propose solutions to those problems? This is the core question that is being asked of the Koike administration.

In the nine months of the Koike administration, contrary to the exaggerated pledges of a “grand reform of Tokyo,” its achievements have actually been remarkably small in scale. It has dug up matters seen as the negative legacies of past administrations, such as the relocation of the Tsukiji market to Toyosu, and the review of Olympic venues, and pointed out, in nit-picking detail, the wasteful spending, the cover-ups, and the lack of transparency. It has even embarked on the hunt for the culprits, trying to root out who made the decisions, and when and where the decisions were made. Describing the Tokyo party chapter of the LDP as a “black box,” the doyens of the LDP in the Tokyo Assembly as the “dons of the Tokyo Assembly,” and past Ishihara administrations as “irresponsible,” Koike is creating enemies and portraying them as the old guards, reactionaries, and bad guys, while portraying her own administration as reformists, good guys, allies of justices, and putting the residents first. This is a political marketing ploy. So far, three people have been designated as the enemy—Olympic Organizing Committee Chair, Yoshiro Mori, former LDP Tokyo party chapter Secretary-General, Shigeru Uchida, and past Tokyo Governor, Shintaro Ishihara. Who will be next?

With the Tokyo Assembly elections fast approaching, the fringe factions within the Tokyo Assembly who hope to ride on the coat-tails of Koike’s popularity have been incited, going as far as setting up an Article 100 committee (a powerful committee formed under Article 100 of the Local Autonomy Act to investigate local government administrative matters) to search for the “culprits” in the land acquisition for the new Toyosu market. Twenty-four senior executives, including the President of Tokyo Gas, as well as former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and former Deputy Governor Takeo Hamauzu, have been called in to testify before the committee. The media reported on the hearings as they happened over the Internet, reaching a national audience. The strategy behind these moves was to paint previous TMG administrations as “an abode of demons,” a ploy that helped to create the “Koike Theater.”

Certainly, constitutional improvements must be made to the negative aspects inherent in such a massive bureaucracy as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, such as the information disclosures that are covered in black-out lines, and decision-making processes that tend to rely on “going with the flow.” In that respect, major qualitative administrative reforms should most definitely be put into motion.

However, is this manner of upholding one’s own popularity by continuing to highlight those kinds of issues in a media-first strategy really appropriate for the person at the helm of the massive organization of Tokyo, home to 13 million people? Should she not turn her attention to solving more structural problems, such as the excessive concentration of population and industry in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, an issue that remains critical even as Japan enters an era of depopulation? What should be done about this “aging Tokyo,” a metropolis of aging people and aging infrastructure?

Of course, in national politics as well, voters these days look no further than tomorrow or the next day, and are concerned only about the immediate future. After the money-politics scandals that have plagued the Inose and Masuzoe administrations over the past few years, public opinion has looked favorably on Koike’s style of “administration as detective,” cheering her on to keep it up. Under these circumstances, Koike’s approval rating remains high. Public opinion polls show that the Koike administration’s approval rating in the nine months since last summer has hovered around 75%. That means that two out of every three voters support Koike. The top two reasons for that support are “her stance and methods of reform are good” (33%) and “she is better than previous governors” (25%). On the other hand, only 6% responded that “she has good policies” (Asahi Shimbun, April 5, 2017). What this appears to mean is that the approval of the Koike administration represents approval of the grand reform of the TMG administration. That is, it is not support for the “grand reform of Tokyo,” which carries with it expectations of a policy shift towards solving Tokyo’s structural issues. This particular point is likely to be a key in how we look at the upcoming Tokyo Assembly elections.

The elections are still more than two months away, but voting intention surveys at this stage show that 31% of voters plan to vote for the LDP, 20% for Tomin Fāsuto no Kai (Tokyo Residents First, Koike’s newly-formed political group), 7% for the Japan Communist Party, 7% for independent candidates, 7% for The Democratic Party, 4% for Komeito, and 1% for Nippon Ishin no Kai (Asahi Shimbun poll, early April). If this trend continues, it is unlikely that Komeito will lose many of its 23 fiercely-guarded seats in the 127-seat Assembly, so if the Koike-led Tokyo Residents First can capture more than 40 seats, it would appear that Koike’s aim of gaining majority support in the Assembly would become possible.

However, politics is an entirely unpredictable game. If some kind of scandal or suspicious fact were to emerge, the situation could change drastically. The higher the approval rating, the harder the rebound, and the shift from approval to disapproval could be like falling off a cliff. How could we forget that the Masuzoe administration was in top form about this time last year? Just two months later, Masuzoe was under siege from the media over his exorbitant overseas official travel expenses, his use of government vehicles to travel to his vacation home on weekends, and the misuse of political funds for private purposes. Finally, on June 15, the last day of the Tokyo Assembly session, he resigned as governor. Whoever would have predicted such an outcome?

Of course, blind spots of that nature in the Koike administration are not yet visible. Nevertheless, Koike is a long-time member of the LDP, and she is still colored by the LDP mentality to some extent or other. Are there any money-politics scandals? Hasn’t anyone around her, including her family and relatives, behaved in a way that is unfitting for a politician? Are there any issues that have been obscured by the heady heatwave-like rush of the “Koike Theater?” Having seen the examples of previous governors, the author is reserving judgment.

Tokyo Assembly Elections to Date

Turning to the elections, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly differs from other regional assemblies in that the average age of its members is quite young, and it is also distinguished by the large percentage—almost 60%—of relatively new members in only their first or second term. “Easy to win, just as easy to lose.” That is the nature of the Tokyo Assembly elections. Every time, some kind of populist wind blows, and many candidates ride that wind to victory, resulting in around a third of the Assembly seats changing hands every election. This means that very few members hold their seat for more than a couple of terms, so in some respects, the Assembly is almost a gathering of inexperienced amateurs. This has given rise to a structure in which a very small handful of multi-term members have thread their way into the gaps formed by these revolving-door elections to take on boss-like status and to lord it over the running of the Assembly.

Koike has described this situation as a “black box” (something whose inner workings are invisible from the outside) and these multi-term Members as the “dons of the Assembly.” The situation could also, however, be considered as an inevitable structural problem of the Assembly, which is at the whim of some 10 million voters, the majority of whom are swing voters.

Table: Tokyo Assembly Election Patterns

As can be seen from this table of the results of the past ten elections, more often than not, the LDP wins the highest number of seats. Although the party has never won an absolute majority, it usually secures its position as the leading party in the Assembly by holding 30-40% of the seats. On just one occasion, the 2009 election, the DPJ became the leading party with 54 seats (40.8%), soundly defeating the LDP, which won only 38 seats (25.9%). This was the first time in the post-War period that the LDP had been tumbled from the No. 1 position in the Tokyo Assembly. Many people would recall that this was around the time that the DPJ boom had swept through the country with its catch cry of “regime change,” and succeeded in winning government at the national level for the first time.

The 2009 Tokyo Assembly elections, when the DPJ became the leading party, took place during the Ishihara administration’s third term. The biggest election issues were the relocation of the Tokyo markets from Tsukiji, the question of the survival of the ShinGinko Tokyo bank, the consolidation of Tokyo’s municipal hospitals, and the question of whether or not to bid for the 2016 Olympics. The election was also fought on the choice between a focus on residents’ lives, that is, issues that broadly affect the lives of all Tokyo residents in areas such as health care, welfare, and education, and a focus on the economy, such as employment and economic stimulus measures. The DPJ at the time sold itself on the slogan of “From Concrete to People.”

The outcome was a resounding victory for the DPJ. After the 2009 Tokyo Assembly elections, the Tsukiji market issue, the ShinGinko Tokyo issue, and other challenges for the third Ishihara administration were rocked greatly by the DPJ and other opposition forces, which resulted in a major stalling of Ishihara’s agenda in its third term.

Four years later, however, in the Tokyo Assembly elections of July 2013, the DPJ suffered a massive defeat, winning only 14 seats, and the LDP was restored to its top position with all 59 of its candidates winning their seats. The Komeito party also performed well, winning 23 seats, thus assuring majority support for the Governor from the LDP-Komeito coalition. This continued through the remainder of the Ishihara administration and the subsequent Inose and Masuzoe administrations, and into the Koike administration. Until the two parties went their separate ways very recently (December 2016), their coalition dominated the Tokyo Assembly with a two-thirds majority.

The beginning of the end of that domination came while the Tokyo Assembly was sitting in March. On the surface, it appears that the Tokyo Assembly will head into the July 2 elections with the pro-Koike factions having greater numbers than the LDP.

The Tokyo Assembly elections are often described as an advance indicator of the national political mood. In 1989, it was the “boom” in female candidates when the Japan Socialist Party gained momentum. In 1993, it was the Japan New Party “boom.” In 2001, Junichiro Koizumi enjoyed a boom in popularity, and in 2005, Koizumi’s LDP won a crushing victory on the back of his plans to reform and privatize Japan Post. In the national House of Representatives elections that took place a month after the summer 2009 Tokyo Assembly elections, the DPJ won a majority and took over the government, but their reign ended less than four years later. In the summer 2013 Tokyo Assembly elections, the LDP won a massive victory, and in national general elections at the end of that year, the LDP-Komeito coalition returned to government. The coalition’s resounding win in the House of Councilors elections last year has given us the current pattern of one dominant party and many weak parties.

The July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections will be the first for the Koike administration. Will Koike’s Residents First group be able to counter the LDP and win 40 seats or more? Some commentators and certain quarters of the media have even gone so far as to predict an outright majority for Residents First. However, with the number of seats in each district ranging from one to eight, one wonders whether such a massive victory would be possible. Residents First supporters have no party affiliations, so if the group were to field two or more candidates in the multi-seat electorates, they would be unable to coordinate the votes won between the candidates. Their votes could be split, causing all of the candidates to lose, or if one candidate is better known than the others, the votes could be concentrated on that one candidate, and the others would lose. In 1993, at the height of the “boom” period of Morihiro Hosokawa’s Japan New Party, the 20 seats it won in the Tokyo Assembly elections were the most a newly-formed party has ever achieved. Koike actually represented the Japan New Party when she first won a seat in the national Diet. In a way, she has now come full circle by becoming Tokyo governor, and is aiming not for a mere 20 seats, but for an outright majority. Will that really happen? And if it does, how will the administration of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government change?

As past data has shown, elections won by riding the crest of these kinds of “booms” tend towards the mass production of “expendable assembly members,” with almost all of them disappearing after failing to hold on to their seats in the next election four years later. This trend will require careful examination. It is the residents of Tokyo who create these “bubble-like” assembly members on the back of such “booms,” and it is those same residents who are disappointed when that bubble later bursts. Although it has been done in Osaka and Nagoya, will the residents of Tokyo be convinced of Koike’s argument that, unless the governor can lead the political party and direct the Tokyo Assembly in a similar manner to the parliamentary system, “good administration” of the Tokyo metropolitan government will be impossible?

The Tokyo metropolitan government operates a dual representation system, in which the governor and the Assembly are elected separately, creating executive and legislative organs. Is there no risk that the kind of structure Koike is seeking could lead to the disappearance of this system in which these two organs seek out the will of the people as they make decisions, while maintaining their mutual checks and balances?

Will the Market Relocation Be an Election Issue?

In late August last year, with just two months to go before the scheduled relocation of the Tsukiji markets to Toyosu, Koike made an abrupt, unilateral announcement that the relocation was to be postponed. During her election campaign, she had declared in a speech to supporters in the neighborhood of the market that she would “stop and think” about the relocation, but there was no mention of actually postponing it in her official campaign pledges. She was flying completely solo in this decision and announcement, making them without any consultation with market stakeholders, the Tokyo assembly, or Tokyo Metropolitan Government headquarters. Koike herself turned the market relocation into a contested issue after she was elected. The postponement declaration came amidst an already extremely tight schedule, with the Tsukiji site slated to be bulldozed immediately after the relocation to make way for the construction of the Ring Road No. 2, a major road for the 2020 Olympics. After the announcement, television coverage of the relocation issue exploded. The lack of the extra soil layer, the high groundwater contamination figures, and other problems became daily fodder for the tabloid TV shows.

As Tokyo governor, Koike has responsibility for both the Olympics preparations and the administration of the market. On this occasion, she prioritized food safety over the construction of the Olympic road. Since then, this issue has become a kind of symbol of the Koike administration’s reforms.

However, is it really a symbol of reform? While the Tsukiji market is a Tokyo Metropolitan Government facility, it is closer in nature to a space rental business. While the TMG establishes and manages the facilities, the users of those facilities are private-sector enterprises. It is as if, just because of a change in the chief of the TMG, as the manager of this space rental business, it has suddenly declared that it is quitting the business. With that kind of attitude, the trust between the public and private sectors, as well as the contracts between them, would become unsustainable. This decision was rammed through without any explanation to the private-sector operators who use Tsukiji or to the Tokyo Assembly that had assiduously made so many decisions on the relocation in the preceding years. While it may be applauded by the general public, this way of running the Tokyo administration also has the latent potential to become the Koike administration’s Achilles heel.

While the contaminated groundwater is an issue, what does the administration plan to do about the market relocation without giving any indication of what will happen a year or two years from now? They are so bent on looking for the “culprits,” that is, “who, when and where of the decision” to build the new facilities at the Toyosu site without establishing the extra soil layer under them as originally planned, and 18 senior officials (including retired officials) have received disciplinary punishment. However, there has been no explanation about “why the soil layer was abandoned”, such as the important issue of the safety of the earthquake-resistant buildings, and the reasons for the design changes. If there is a clear reason for the design changes based on the shocking state of wide-ranging soil liquefaction in the Urayasu and Toyosu areas after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, which happened around the same time that the design changes were made, then surely all Tokyo residents and Japanese citizens would understand. Why isn’t anyone being made to explain this point?

Until March, Koike had been contriving to make the market relocation an election issue, but the winds of public opinion, which had been in her favor until then, started to change in April. In a public opinion poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper on April 5, 55% of respondents said that the markets should be relocated, a far higher percentage than the 29% who thought it should be abandoned. With this sudden turning of the tides, Koike started to say she would not make it an election issue. Even the Komeito members of the Tokyo Assembly, who are leaning towards Koike, changed their mind in favor of the relocation. This is one aspect of the media-first strategy.

My own view, which I have previously stated, is that the Toyosu market, which is equipped with modern facilities that cost some 600 billion yen to build, should be put to effective use after prompt additional construction work to counter the contamination.

Massive projects like this one should not be turned into a political football and decisions should not be made on whether they would be an advantage or disadvantage in an election. The new market has been completed. Administrations also surely have a duty of continuity. Since autumn last year, the Tokyo governor has been taking the lead in disparaging the Toyosu site, and she bears a heavy responsibility for the nationwide damage she has done to the new facility’s reputation. My sense is that it was only when former Governor Ishihara said that he would go as far as taking legal action to hold the Koike administration responsible for what he described as an “failure to act” by postponing the market relocation, that she realized the gravity of the situation. Of course, she shows no sign of changing her own road map, and whether the relocation happens this year or next year, there are signs that the residents of Tokyo will continue to pay the “cost of peace of mind” represented by the 15 or 20 billion yen that will disappear. But is it really the cost of peace of mind? Is it not actually the cost of having chosen a governor who is unable to make up her mind? Perhaps the real point of issue will be the governor’s credentials as a manager.

Competition of ideas is a good thing. My own idea is to change the name of the Toyosu market to the “new Tsukiji market,” to declare to the world that it is still the same Tsukiji market, reborn in another location. They could also transform the way in which the market is managed, by abandoning the current dependence on the bureaucracy and adopting a “designated administrator scheme”, in which a private-sector company would be appointed to manage the market. One of the major fisheries companies could also be appointed as the chief of the market, and other steps should be taken to privatize the market’s management. I believe that this matter needs to be put to rest with a sense of urgency. Then, the old Tsukiji site could be sold off and an all-out effort could be put into the construction of the Ring Road No. 2 quickly, which is predicted to cause massive traffic congestion.

The Real Issue Is the “Aging Tokyo” Debate

Until now, the citizens of the Japan, the residents of Tokyo, the politicians, and the bureaucrats, have held a firm conviction in Tokyo’s affluence, and have shown no interest in the state of this mammoth metropolis of Tokyo, with its huge population and concentration of companies. As a result, they have overlooked the major changes that are taking place in Tokyo’s internal structure. Change of the times has been bringing about large air pockets in that structure. This is the problem of “aging Tokyo” and “Tokyo in decline.”

In this massive urban space, which is home to 13 million people, a tenth of the nation’s population, with the concurrent retirement of the baby boomer generation, pockets of “marginal villages,” whose declining populations are mostly senior citizens, are already starting to appear in the suburbs and outer regions of the metropolis. The local governments of those outlying regions are experiencing sharp declines in resident tax revenue, and as more and more houses fall vacant, fixed asset taxes are also starting to dwindle. Large cities are facing an imminent crisis of collapse, starting with these outlying municipalities.

In twenty years, one third of Tokyo’s residents will be senior citizens. Currently, almost 40% of senior citizens many of whom live alone do so in rented housing. What will happen when the elderly population rises sharply and their pension benefits are reduced? Senior citizens with few savings will be unable to pay their rent, and could be forced out into the streets. There will be a flood of “elderly refugees.” Even today, Tokyo has a shortage of aged care homes, with large numbers of senior citizens waiting for places. That number is said to be in range of 400,000 or 500,000, but potentially, it could even exceed one million. And yet, building enough new facilities to absorb this flood of elderly refugees is impossible. Land prices are far too high and there is not enough land.

So what is to be done? Surely this is a policy issue whose urgency is on a par with the problem of children waiting for childcare places. Looked at over the medium to long term, there is a possibility that, as the number of children declines, the number of children on childcare waiting lists will also fall, but the problem of elderly people waiting for aged care home places is only going to get worse as the elderly population rises sharply. If this problem is not handled properly, there is even a risk of the “collapse of Tokyo” itself. Tokyo has already become a society facing an absolute population decline and a sharp increase in the elderly. There is no time to be lost in finding solutions to the problem of “aging Tokyo.”

The problem of aging Tokyo is not confined to the “soft” or intangible areas of society, such as health care, welfare, aged care, culture, education, and support for raising children. It covers a wide range of areas, including the “hard” or tangible urban infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, water supply and sewerage systems, underground railways and passages, and public facilities, many of which were built more than fifty years ago. It is the role of the Tokyo metropolitan government to face up squarely to this problem. None of the people who want to assume one of the 127 seats on the Tokyo Assembly will be qualified for that position unless they talk about these issues.

The job of the metropolitan government can be summed up as follows: (1) measures to counter the shrinking birth rate and aging population; (2) renewal of urban infrastructure; (3) reinforcement of disaster readiness, including responses to an earthquake striking directly under Tokyo; (4) strengthening Tokyo’s global competitiveness as an international financial center and in other ways, (5) the reform and streamlining of the metropolitan government, which could be described as a negative legacy, and (6) thorough preparations for the 2020 Olympics, which are only three years away. Candidates need to go into the elections with an answer to one of these six issues, and the voters will look at those answers and make their decision.

Need for Debate Using the “Pendulum” Theory of Metropolitan Government

The overarching trend of Tokyo’s successive administrations has been one of a pendulum swinging between an economic focus and a lifestyle focus, between an emphasis on “hard” policies and an emphasis on “soft” policies. We need to recognize that the Tokyo government of today is the result of that history.

Figure: The Pendulum Theory of Tokyo’s Administration

The current administration is still dragging along with it the remnants of the Ishihara administration, which lasted for four terms, a total of 13 and a half years. Ishihara clearly indicated a path of structural reform. Tag-teaming with the Koizumi national government of the time, it worked towards the restoration of the great metropolis and shifted to a policy of concentration on the city center. It developed “hard,” economy-focused policies, such as large-scale deregulation and simplification of environmental assessment, resumed the construction of the Tokyo Gaikan Expressway, which had been suspended for many years, and expanded Haneda Airport’s international terminal. The pendulum of Tokyo’s administration is currently stuck fast pointing in the direction of the economic-focus, “hard” policies. The subsequent Inose and Masuzoe administrations were lackluster, and the sense of a provisional government remains in the Tokyo administration.

Will the Koike administration be able to put an end to that swing? Given her rallying call of “Tokyo residents first,” she gives the impression that she will be focused on residents’ lives, and that her policies will emphasize the “soft” aspects of administration. Considering the historical trend shown in the figure above, as well as the challenges facing the Tokyo government, the direction that the Koike administration must take seems clear.

In the nebulous debate about the “grand reform of Tokyo,” the expression “grand Tokyo reform” has taken on a life of its own without any substantial policies behind it, and its content remains invisible. The question is, can a policy debate be developed that is rich and dense enough to pack some content into the notion of “grand reform”? The Tokyo assembly election always attracts large numbers of candidates. If they are running only with the objective of becoming Assembly members, that would be a problem. I hope that they will think about what they will do when they become Assembly members, and that, instead of a debate about who is for Koike and who is against her, we will see a debate with a rich depth of content about “what to do about Tokyo.”

Nobuo Sasaki
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Public administration, local self-government
Professor Sasaki was born in 1948. He earned a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University and a doctor of law from Keio University. After serving in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for 16 years, including in its Office of Policy Planning, he became a professor at Seigakuin University in 1989. He then became a professor at Chuo University in 1994. He served as a visiting research fellow at the University of California (UCLA) in 2000, and has served as a professor in both the Graduate School of Economics and the Faculty of Economics at Chuo University since 2001. He specializes in the areas of public administration and local self-government. He has taught at Keio University, Meiji University, Nihon University, and other institutions, and served on the Japanese government’s 31st Local Government System Research Council. He concurrently serves as a member of the Science Council of Japan (in the field of political science), and as a special advisor to the Osaka City and Osaka Prefectural governments (on the Osaka Sub-Capital Concept).
In March this year, his latest book, Aging Tokyo [Oiru Tokyo] (Kadokawa Shinsho), was released. His many other publications include Tokyo’s Big Problem [Tokyo no Daimondai] (MyNavi Shinsho, December 2016), Counterattack of the Local Assembly Members [Chihō Giin no Gyakushū] (Kodansha Shinsho), Regional Revitalization in an Era of Depopulation [Jinkō Genshō Jidai no Chihō Sōsei Ron] (PHP), The New Shape of Japan [Aratana “Nihon no Katachi”] (Kadokawa SSC Shinsho), and The Governor of Tokyo: Power and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government [Tochiji – Kenryoku to Tosei] (Chuko Shinsho). He has received the NHK Local Broadcast Cultural Award and the Japan Society for Urbanology Prize. He frequently appears on NHK, TBS, TV Asahi, Fuji TV, Nihon TV, and the various broadcast satellite channels, and provides commentary for several daily newspapers. He also gives frequent lectures throughout Japan.