Key issues in the upcoming Tokyo gubernatorial election on Sunday include candidates’ responses to the COVID-19 epidemic and the postponement to next year of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Major candidates generally aim to expand the metropolitan government’s support for its citizens’ daily lives and strengthen the capital’s medical capacity in preparation for a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
The daily number of new infections in Tokyo bounced back above 100 on Thursday from lows below 10 last month.
Meanwhile, candidates are sharply divided over the postponed Tokyo Games, as the future course of the epidemic remains uncertain.
Stepping up the fight
Taro Yamamoto, 45, leader of Reiwa Shinsengumi party, is keen to give ¥100,000 to Tokyo residents and implement a one-year tuition waiver at universities and high schools through the issuing of metropolitan government bonds totaling ¥15 trillion.
Incumbent Gov. Yuriko Koike, 67, emphasizes that the metropolitan government under her governorship has twice provided financial relief of up to ¥1 million each to small businesses that suspended operations to help curb the epidemic.
She also advocates the establishment of a Tokyo version of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kenji Utsunomiya, 73, former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, calls for the provision of full-fledged compensation to those who comply with stay-at-home and business suspension requests.
He is also willing to shore up the epidemic-hit cultural sector, including live music clubs and movie theaters.
Taisuke Ono, 46, former vice governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, stresses the need to implement financial support and other measures for certain sectors, including nighttime businesses, while thoroughly monitoring infections.
Takashi Tachibana, 52, head of NHK Kara Kokumin o Mamoru To, a party critical of public broadcaster NHK, is eager to provide support for the events and restaurant industries.
He proposes resolving the problem of crowded trains by raising fares during peak commuting hours.
Society in the coronavirus era
While Yamamoto argues that responding to the current situation is more important than considering future issues, Koike has presented the concept of a new lifestyle to strike a balance between the maintenance of social and economic activities and efforts to curb the epidemic.
Utsunomiya claims that priority should be given to people’s safety and daily lives, as well as social solidarity, rather than economic outcomes.
Ono calls for balancing infection prevention measures, including the use of teleworking, and economic activities.
Tachibana is opposed to an excessive scaling back of economic activities, suggesting that those who should exercise self-restraint are elderly and other people with higher infection risks.
The Tokyo Games
Yamamoto insists that the Tokyo Games should be called off, given that a COVID-19 vaccine has not been created. “It’s hard to say that visitors from overseas would be able to safely enjoy the event in Tokyo,” he has said.
Koike underscores her intention to realize the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. “I’ll proceed in a way that can gain support from metropolitan residents,” the sitting governor has stressed.
Utsunomiya has suggested that he would encourage the International Olympic Committee to cancel the Tokyo Games if experts believe it is difficult to hold the event. “I would use funds saved from the cancellation for providing support to residents.”
Ono proposes negotiating with the IOC for the Tokyo Games to take place in 2024. Tachibana also backs a possible further postponement of the event.
Whether Tokyo should aim to host a so-called integrated resort (IR) featuring a casino is another issue in the gubernatorial race.
Yamamoto is opposed to Tokyo’s possible IR bid, arguing that “the essence of casinos is that some people gain profits from others’ losses.”
Koike has refrained from taking a clear position on the issue, only saying that she will “consider it in a comprehensive way,” while citing an increase in visitors to Tokyo as a potential merit of hosting an IR and a rise in gambling addiction cases as a possible problem.
Utsunomiya is also negative about Tokyo hosting an IR. “There are expected to be adverse effects such as multiple-loan problems, gambling addiction and deterioration of public security,” the former bar federation chief has said.
Ono is eager to campaign for an IR to be opened in the capital, on the condition that measures including those to prevent gambling addiction are implemented. The facility “would become a huge attraction of the city,” the former vice governor of Kumamoto has said.
Tachibana is also positive about working to have an IR established in Tokyo.