Political risks cloud Hokkaido IR prospects

Despite the enthusiasm of the Tomakomai municipal government, dark political clouds seem to be gathering over the prospects for an IR bid from Hokkaido.

News reports emerged on Friday that conservative Governor Harumi Takahashi will not be running for a fifth term next spring. Instead, she is planning to contest a seat in the House of Councillors next summer. Governor Takahashi has so far refused to either confirm or deny these reports.

If Takahashi does step aside, it will improve the opposition’s chances to capture the Hokkaido governorship, which would most likely bring all IR plans in the prefecture to an immediate halt. While it is likely that a ruling party-backed candidate would support the IR concept, even that is not guaranteed.

A public opinion poll conducted about a month ago by Hokkaido Shinbun found that 65 percent of the respondents opposed a Hokkaido IR and only 33 percent supported it.

This summer, a Hokkaido Shinbun survey of the members of the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly also spelled trouble: Of the five caucuses within the 101-seat chamber, the survey found that the 25-member caucus associated with the former Democratic Party and the 4-member caucus of the Japan Communist Party are committed opponents to hosting an IR in Hokkaido, while the 49-member Liberal Democratic Party-affiliated caucus, a 12-member independent caucus, and the 8-member Komeito caucus are each divided within themselves, and had not taken any positive position on hosting an IR.

Moreover, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has clearly been targeting Hokkaido as the prefecture in Japan in which they most hope to make significant gains. Party leader Yukio Edano has been making multiple visits to the prefecture, much more frequently than for most other regions of the nation.

Next spring the unified local elections will include both the gubernatorial race and the assembly elections. Conservative forces will likely need to win both contests for the IR plans to go forward.