Anyone who thought that the Yokohama mayoral race would be between the pro-IR incumbent and a major anti-IR opposition challenger has watched that scenario go out the window over the past couple weeks.
Six candidates are now in the race, and incumbent Mayor Fumiko Hayashi is still weighing her decision about becoming the seventh.
The most unexpected development, of course, was the decision by Hachiro Okonogi to leave his post in the Suga Cabinet and to run on an anti-IR platform. His action completely overturned the expected dynamics of the race, and has made the chances of the Yokohama IR bid going forward rather unlikely.
As the expected ruling party candidate, and having ditched the IR initiative, Okonogi should probably be considered the favorite to win at this juncture, but there are also reasons to wonder if his candidacy might not implode.
Primarily, this is because he could easily face a rebellion from local ruling party conservatives who had publicly committed themselves to the IR initiative and are deeply unhappy about having to now reverse their stance and eat their words.
Elements of the business community, led by the Yokohama Chamber of Commerce & Industry, are still signaling commitment to the Yamashita Pier IR.
It is worth noting in this context that business groups representing the Motomachi, Chinatown, and Bashamichi districts affiliated with the Kannai-Kangai District Revitalization Council met with Mayor Hayashi on Tuesday and petitioned her to run for reelection on a pro-IR platform.
It’s difficult to predict how this will play out, but it is not impossible that if Hayashi runs, the ruling party could easily split between those supporting Okonogi and those supporting Hayashi.
There are now five anti-IR mayoral candidates in the race, so it can’t be said that the opposition camp is particularly united either. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has tapped an untested university professor, Takeharu Yamanaka, as their candidate, at the particular urging of the prominent local lawmaker Kenji Eda.
It remains to be seen if Yamanaka will convince the other major constituents of the local anti-IR movement—the Japan Communist Party, the Yokohama Citizens’ Association to Bring to Power an Anti-Casino Mayor, and Yukio Fujiki’s Yokohama Harbor Resort Association—to agree to consolidate behind him.
There are four other candidates who look like they will have little institutional support and become minor players, but any one might prove to be a good campaigner and gain traction with a section of the public. Masataka Ota, Akiko Fujimura, and Yoshikazu Tsubokura have all taken anti-IR stances, while Mineyuki Fukuda is at present the only pro-IR candidate.
The IR development issue has thrown a spanner into the works, making it unpredictable not only who will be elected the next mayor of Yokohama, but even which interest groups will line up behind which candidates.
To take one example, the “Don of Yokohama” Yukio Fujiki was clearly preparing to back the mainstream opposition candidate Takeharu Yamanaka, based on his anti-IR stance and Kenji Eda’s recommendation. That may still go forward. But Hachiro Okonogi would be remiss if he weren’t getting in touch with Fujiki now and trying to convince him to stick with the ruling party, especially now that he is also taking an anti-IR position.
At this juncture, it’s easy to imagine an outcome in which several candidates become competitive, and with no one completely dominating the field. Okonogi, as mentioned, is probably the best bet to win, but there is still plenty of scope for things to go wrong for him and he is vulnerable to a ruling party rebellion.
The future of the Yokohama IR hangs in the balance.