Why Voters in Tokyo Need to Vote in the Next Gubernatorial Election

While coronavirus continues to dominate the news cycle, Tokyo is preparing for the other “Tokyo 2020”: the gubernatorial election slated for July 5th

The election is largely viewed as a referendum on governor Yuriko Koike.

Candidates are still in the process of announcing their candidacy. Expect all the candidates to be lined up and ready to campaign by June 18th (2 weeks from this week). 

Although this isn’t a national election, it’s significant because Tokyo is the largest city in Japan. This post will explain why voting matters and what to look for as more candidates jump into the race.

Why Vote in the First Place?

In a general sense, we vote to choose representatives that make the laws and policies that govern how we live together. It’s an exercise of democratic rights to choose a candidate we like.

Those who abstain from voting believe their vote will not change the results of an election. Others believe they don’t have adequate time to research candidates.

In short, the costs of voting are higher than the benefits. However, voting is probably the least costly way to change things—it doesn’t hurt to take a few minutes to vote.

While one vote may not mean much, making sure representatives know our preferences is better than not voting.

In terms of younger voters, there are several reasons why we should vote.

This is a resource I found helpful when looking for ways to explain why we should vote.

Here’s a translation and some additions:

1. Older generations vote at a higher rate. Politicians are inclined to listen to them. 

While it depends on the election (national or local), older people vote at a higher rate. 

In the last national election (upper-house election in 2019), at least half of those over 50 years old voted. In comparison, about 30% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 voted. Since there are more older people than younger people in Japan, a disproportionately higher number of older voters participated. 

Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications  

The same can be said for the last Tokyo gubernatorial election in 2016. 

Source: Tokyo Secretariat to Election Administration Commission

The overall participation rate was 59.73%. Around 65%-75% of voters between the ages of 50 and 80 participated, while 35%-50% of younger voters participated. It’s good that more than half of the registered 18 year olds voted, but we need more voters in their 20s to vote. 

2. Short-term policies are made frequently, while policies addressing long-term issues are scant.

Because the preferences of older generations are prioritized, policies are geared for the short-term. Issues like climate change and education aren’t addressed adequately. 

Even when long-term policies are proposed, they may lack input from younger voters.

3. Representation of younger voices will increase in the Diet/local assembly. 

It’s critical to vote for representatives that stand up for younger voices in the Diet and/or local assemblies. The chances of getting elected are higher the more we vote. 

4. Voting is the bare minimum we can do.

Voting doesn’t take a lot of time. You can go to a voting booth close by and circle a name. It didn’t take me 10 minutes to vote in the 2019 upper-house election. 

It’s easy to complain about certain policies and politicians. While Tweeting and venting your frustration on social media helps, it’ll be more helpful to vote. It may not produce tangible results immediately, but it definitely counts. 

Why Vote in This Election?

Tokyo’s population surpasses the population of countries. That’s how big it is. According to the World Economic Forum, Tokyo had the highest GDP for a city in the world last year, at $1.6 trillion

This makes Tokyo’s governor a powerful figure, capable of influencing other prefectures and even the government.

This was proven during the coronavirus pandemic when Governor Koike worked with other prefectures to prevent travelers from visiting Tokyo. She also negotiated with the Abe cabinet when choosing which businesses to close down temporarily. 

Voting for the governor is also important because we don’t want policies to be made behind our backs. Most people tend to know little about the work done in the Tokyo assembly, tasked with oversight over the metropolitan government. This makes the gubernatorial election important. 

The governor is the one of the few politicians in the city voters get to know, so it’s essential we vote for the person who is most likely to pursue our interests. 

In recent years, perhaps due to a lack of interest, governors have been elected based on popularity rather than their policies. This is far more obvious in local elections. It is important that we identify the candidate with sound, achievable policies.  

Will Koike Get Reelected?

Governor Koike is enjoying a rally of support a month before the election. 

A poll conducted over the weekend (5/30-5/31) showed that 69.8% of respondents approved Koike’s job as governor. This was a 20 point increase from March—around the time the pandemic started to get worse.

It seems that people rated the governor’s coronavirus response highly. In the same poll, 76% approved the governor’s response. 

Source: JX Press Corp (Blue represents approval; red represents disapproval)

History is also on Koike’s side.

In the last 7 elections, the incumbent (Shintaro Ishihara won 5/7) has won every election. While the last two winners before Koike didn’t run for reelection due to political scandals, we can assume they would have won if not for those scandals. 

Who’s in the Race?

Koike is yet to formally announce her reelection campaign. Multiple reports suggest she will announce on June 10th.

The governor is set to be backed by the ruling LDP/Komeito coalition, who decided against supporting an opposing candidate. It seems that the coalition can’t afford to lose like they did in 2016—especially considering the dip in support for the government. 

Three opposition parties—main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), and Social Democratic Party (SDP)—decided to back lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, an independent.

Many believe the race will be contested between these two candidates. 

Utsunomiya ran for governor in 2012 and 2014, backed by the JCP and SDP. He placed second both times. In 2016, he decided to end his campaign after the opposition parties backed another candidate. 

It’s been a while since the ruling party and main opposition party decided against supporting a candidate of their own. Governor Koike’s strong numbers make it a risky choice to run a standalone candidate, especially before the national election next year. 

Before backing Utsunomiya, the CDP had actually asked 2 other candidates if they wanted to run, but both declined the offer.

The National Democratic Party (NDP) was the only major opposition party that didn’t back Utsunomiya. This may be because many of Koike’s former allies from the Party of Hope (Koike’s former party) are now part of the NDP. 

Other candidates include:
Takashi Tachibana (Leader, The Party to Protect the People from NHK)
Taisuke Ono (Vice governor of Kumamoto prefecture)
Makoto Sakurai (Leader, Japan First Party)
Hideyuki Takemoto (Futures Trading Investor)
Hitoshi Ishii (Freelance Reporter)
Makoto Nishimoto (Singer)

What’s Next?

Future posts will be dedicated to providing information on candidates/policies so readers can find everything they need on 1 website.

Here is a rough schedule for the next few posts (scheduled posting date in parenthesis):

  • How Powerful is Tokyo’s Governor? (June 8~10)
  • Candidate Profiles for Each Candidate (as they announce; will compare 2020 pledges with previous ones if they have run in the past)
  • Policy Comparison by Issue (once all candidates are in place)
  • Weekly Update on the Election (every Saturday)

Please feel free to send me article ideas and comments about my posts!

Image: MASA (CC BY-SA 4.0)

2 thoughts on “Why Voters in Tokyo Need to Vote in the Next Gubernatorial Election

  1. Since you’re making a series out of this, it would be good to know how much power Tokyo’s governor has relative to the prime minister and the national government.


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