The campaign for today’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election should have been an opportunity for the main political parties to outline their visions for the future of a city that is home to more than 9 million people and propose solutions to its problems.
Instead, the two main players have spent the last three weeks doing their best to extinguish political fires that they mostly ignited themselves and have threatened to engulf their poll numbers.
Just hours before polling stations opened, an unprecedented number of voters said they were still unsure who to vote for, suggesting that neither Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike nor the Liberal Democratic Party have completely won over the constituents.
According to one opinion poll, Koike’s “Tomin First No Kai”, or the Tokyo Residents First Association, has the support of 27 per cent of voters. That puts her just one percentage point ahead of the LDP.
The Japanese Communist Party has the backing of around 13 per cent, 12 per cent support Komeito and 8 per cent will vote for the Democratic Party.
Another poll, however, shocked election-watchers when it showed 57 per cent of voters had not made up their minds who to support.
“Sometimes we will see 30 per cent of people saying they are undecided a few days before the election and 40 per cent is almost unheard of – but 57 per cent is a ridiculously high figure and makes predicting the election very unpredictable,” said Steven Reed, a professor at Chuo University who specialises in Japanese politics and elections.
People have yet to make their minds up, Reed suggests, because of the problems that have beset the two main rivals for the chamber.
Koike’s recent decision to go ahead with the transfer of the city’s fish market from Tsukiji to a new site at Toyosu – despite huge questions remaining over dangerous contaminants at the site, a former gas works – “did not please anybody,” said Reed.
The governor’s figures may also have been affected over the cost of Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics.
For the LDP, the problems are primarily at the national level. After running a tight ship during his second term as prime minister, Shinzo Abe has “finally stumbled in ways that we had thought he had learnt not to do any more,” Reed said.
The prime minister has been hit hard by allegations that he interfered in decisions by bureaucrats involving two schools. Despite denials, a trickle of accusations and leaked documents have meant that Abe has been unable to escape suspicion that he was involved in applying pressure.
Some recent government legislation has also been unpopular, including a bill that outlaws conspiracy to commit a crime, while there is also strong opposition to his plans to rewrite the constitution. The prime minister has not been helped by some questionable behaviour by members of his party.
Toshinao Nakagawa, a former vice-minister of trade, resigned in April it was revealed he was having an extramarital affair. His reputation took another hit this month when a tabloid printed photos of him in a compromising position in a Tokyo bondage bar.
Also in June, Mayuko Toyota, considered a rising star in the party, was forced to step down after being recorded kicking her male secretary, mocking his thinning hair and allegedly threatening to crush his head with a lead pipe.
“Until relatively recently, Abe would react and take care of problems very rapidly, ensuring that they did not get out of hand,” said Reed. “But now it looks like he is keeping people on for too long and well after they have become liabilities to his government.”
A defeat for the LDP will clearly be a significant blow to Abe personally, while it may also encourage Komeito – which is in alliance with the LDP but backs Koike in Tokyo – may defect from Abe’s side entirely.