Yokohama anti-casino forces struggle to select unity candidate

The possibility that the Yokohama opposition will fail to agree on a viable anti-casino mayoral candidate is growing as the target date for making a decision continues to slip.

Mayor Fumiko Hayashi’s unwillingness to hold a popular referendum on IR development enraged much of the local public, but it also put the political ball in the court of the fractious opposition parties, which may or may not prove up to the challenge of presenting a united front to voters.

The nation’s largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), established a committee in March headed by its representatives Kenji Eda and Tomoko Abe. They had hoped to select a candidate by the end of last month, but were not able to do so.

Meanwhile, Professor Setsu Kobayashi, the most prominent figure of the Yokohama Citizens’ Association to Bring to Power an Anti-Casino Mayor, said that the campaign would go well as long as the unity candidate could be found by the end of the Golden Week holiday, which comes in the first week of May.

The CDPJ, however, has recently mentioned the end of May as being its new target date for candidate selection.

As has become a familiar pattern in Japanese politics in recent years, the Japan Communist Party (often the second-largest opposition party) is offering full cooperation in withdrawing its own independent candidate, but the most centrist CDPJ is wary of any close cooperation with the Communists, worried that it might offend more conservative voters.

An unusual factor is the potential mayoral candidacy of Shigefumi Matsuzawa, a former governor of Kanagawa Prefecture and a national lawmaker, who would certainly bring a lot of name recognition into the race.

The odd point about Matsuzawa, however, is that although he is apparently offering himself as the potential anti-casino unity candidate for Yokohama, in recent years he has mostly been associated with far right politics and is currently affiliated with the Japan Innovation Party (Osaka Ishin), the regional party headed by Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, a strong IR advocate who is heading his city’s bid to host a facility at Yumeshima.

While not impossible in the context of Japanese politics, it would be unusual to see the local Communist Party supporting a sometimes rightwing candidate for Yokohama mayor who is affiliated with their mortal enemies in Osaka.

As the national opposition parties dally, of course, two independent anti-casino candidates have already announced their intention to run, Masataka Ota and Akiko Fujimura. The former of the pair is a CDPJ politician from the Yokohama City Council, though his party has not yet decided whether it will back his candidacy.

Many eyes are fixed on the August 22 Yokohama mayoral race, both in terms of its impact on IR development and what it could mean for the political fate of another Yokohama politician, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The big question is whether the opposition parties can capitalize on the widespread public disgust with incumbent Mayor Hayashi’s disingenuous handling of the IR issue.