Hachiro Okonogi has now openly declared his intention to join the Yokohama mayoral race, but ambiguity remains about the nature of his “anti-IR” policy stance.
On the one hand, Okonogi himself has now confirmed in a general way that the newspaper reports are correct that he will take a position against the construction of the IR at Yamashita Pier, but it is still not clear exactly what that entails. Indeed, it seems that Okonogi himself has not entirely decided what it means.
Reporting by some Japanese newspapers suggests that Okonogi is actually an advocate of IR development in Japan, but that he has simply taken onboard the fact that the people of Yokohama are against it, and so he is thinking to run against the IR specifically in that one location.
However, it is not simply generalized public opinion that concerns Okonogi, but more specifically he is believed to be aiming to bring the “Don of Yokohama” Yukio Fujiki back into the fold of the ruling party in the upcoming race, and to repair this crucial political relationship which has been broken by the IR development issue.
But Okonogi is facing blowback. The local chapter of the ruling party had gone all in on backing IR development, including the abrupt dismissal of the citizen’s referendum, and they are said to be “stunned” at Okonogi’s entry into the race and his “anti-IR” policy orientation.
There is talk within the local chapter that they should withhold the ruling party endorsement of Okonogi’s candidacy unless he signs some sort of policy agreement backing IR development. However, since they themselves are divided on how to proceed, they have effectively left the final decision to the discretion of Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai, another prominent politician from the prefecture, and the head of the party’s Yokohama chapter.
In the meantime, Okonogi is apparently in talks with many local members of the ruling party, a significant number of whom are trying to convince him to change his mind about running in opposition to IR development. Okonogi is said to be telling them in response that he is still thinking about it.
The opposition parties, meanwhile, have begun to attack Okonogi on the charge that he is abandoning his duties as National Public Safety Commission chairman on the very eve of the crucial Tokyo Olympics, thus demonstrating an irresponsible attitude. Some are also warning that his opposition to IR development is simply another ruse.
The bottom line is that the situation remains fluid. Okonogi has yet to clearly outline his policy on the Yokohama IR and seems to have not yet made up his own mind about it. The ruling party has yet to reach any decision on whether or not it will back his candidacy. Incumbent Mayor Fumiko Hayashi has yet to declare her own intentions about whether or not she will run as the unabashedly pro-IR candidate. Finally, it remains unclear whether or not the local public, including the port boss Fujiki, will welcome Okonogi’s entry into the race.
With Election Day coming on August 22, these matters will soon become clear, but at the moment much of it depends on what Okonogi himself decides to say and do in the coming days.