On Sunday, the official campaign period began for the second round of the Unified Local Elections, which will include mayoral elections in Sasebo and city council races in the cities of Sasebo, Wakayama, and Tomakomai, where debate over local IR plans is expected to be the top political issue.
Sasebo Mayor Norio Tomonaga, who ran unopposed four years ago, will this time face a challenge from independent candidate Takaharu Tanaka.
Tanaka, however, does not appear to be a very competitive candidate. He does not appear to have any organized support base and when he ran as a candidate for the city council twelve years ago, he ran dead last out of fifty candidates.
Under the terms of the IR Implementation Act passed last year, the approval of city councils is not needed for IR construction. However, it is generally expected that city councils will wield considerable influence over city mayors who must, after all, work with these councils to pass new ordinances and on other matters.
In Sasebo, there are 44 candidates running for the 33 available city council seats.
The Wakayama City Council elections are perhaps a bit more important because Mayor Masahiro Obana’s official position is still that any casino built at Marina City should be a foreigners-only facility, a policy that contradicts that of the prefectural government.
While it is widely expected that Obana will ultimately agree to open the prospective casino to locals as well, the results of the city council election may make his anticipated pivot away from his reelection campaign promises of last July more difficult.
On the other hand, there are only 45 candidates for the 38 available seats, so a major political swing appears to be ruled out on that basis alone.
The Tomakomai City Council race is even less competitive: there are only 31 candidates for the 28 available seats.
This year’s Unified Local Elections have been particularly marked by the inability of opposition parties to even field a large number of candidates, essentially forfeiting local races around the nation before they begin.
Election Day is April 21.