Wakayama mayoral debate puts IR plan on firing line

The face-to-face debate on July 5 between the two candidates for Wakayama mayor underlined the fact that neither candidate is currently in open alignment with the prefectural government’s plan to build an IR at the Marina City site.

Incumbent Mayor Masahiro Obana supports the concept of building the IR, which he claims will have a major positive effect on the local economy, but he continues to assert that he would only advocate a foreigner-only casino. Mayor Obana also says that he would allow the Wakayama City Council to vote on the issue, even though their consent is not a requirement under the terms of the IR Implementation Bill.

Currently, Mayor Obana’s administration receives support from three caucuses within the city council, making up 31 of the body’s 38 members. However, the city council elections are coming in April 2019 as part of the nationwide unified local elections.

Obana’s challenger in the July 29 mayoral election is Kumiko Shima, who told the audience that she is “completely opposed” to building an IR at Marina City, and asserted that about 70 percent of the local public agrees with her stance.

Rather than go to the city council, Shima suggested that as mayor she might hold a public referendum on the issue of building an IR, a vote which she clearly expects would endorse her stance of opposing the project.

Back in May, Asia Gaming Brief raised the issue of the upcoming mayoral election with Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka. The governor expressed confidence that should Mayor Obana be reelected, that he would eventually be persuaded to give up the idea of a foreigner-only casino. Governor Nisaka was less confident that Shima would change her stance, but seemed to suggest that her administration would face difficulties from “the people” if she blocked the IR project.