Yokohama mayor gives first nod to democracy

Hayashi IR

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi has, for the very first time, acknowledged that the people of her city might actually have a voice in whether or not to build a major IR along the coastline.

Asked on Friday about her plans, the mayor reiterated that she has no intention to hold a referendum on IR development, nor would she be guided by public opinion, but that, “if a referendum is held and there is much opposition to an IR, I would like to respect the results.”

During her reelection campaign in the summer of 2017, Hayashi claimed to be a “blank slate” on the question of IR development, but last year she unveiled her strong support for the initiative, declaring it to be a vital necessity for the economic development of the community.

Public opinion throughout most of Japan has been negative about casino legalization, but opposition in Yokohama has been particularly intense, with polls showing 2-to-1, and sometimes even 3-to-1, opposition to the scheme.

Currently, there are two separate citizen signature-gathering campaigns aiming to defeat the IR development initiative. One, if it gathers sufficient support, would require the municipal government to hold a popular referendum on the IR (about which Hayashi was responding to in her Friday comments) and the other is seeking the recall of the mayor, replacing her with a candidate who opposes casino legalization.

In spite of this intense local opposition, Hayashi has pushed forward, many believe based upon the counsel of her main political patron, former Chief Cabinet Secretary and current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Mayor Hayashi’s more conciliatory stance toward the local opposition was likely provoked by the nine-month delay in the national IR development timeline. Under the previous schedule, she would have been able to submit Yokohama’s IR licensing application to the central government before facing the voters next summer, thus presenting them with a fait accompli.

However, this option has now been foreclosed, meaning that Hayashi is required to face her angry voters before the question of local IR development is decided. Her comments about her willingness to accept the popular verdict may therefore be less about a change of heart on the need for democratic input and more about lowering the temperature of the confrontation and trying to ease public passions.

At any rate, whether she likes it or not, she will now be required to defeat the anti-casino movement and its champions next year in at least one direct contest before Yokohama’s IR licensing application can be submitted.

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