By Todd Crowell
TOKYO (AA) – Voters in Tokyo go to the polls next month for the second time in two years to replace a disgraced governor after Yoichi Masuzoe resigned June 14, hours before the prefectural assembly could oust him in a no confidence vote.
The end for Masuzoe came after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to join the other anti-Masuzoe forces even though the governor was a member of its own party.
The ruling party had concluded that the messy political situation in Tokyo might hurt its chances in the July 10 general election to the House of Councilors, the lower house of Japan’s bicameral parliament.
Tokyo residents can look forward to a summer of sound trucks blaring political messages and candidates’ name, with two elections, one for the national parliamentary and for a Tokyo governor bye-election. While not yet official, it appears that the election would be held July 31 or possibly in early August.
Masuzoe’s resignation puts an end to growing political controversy that began in April after a weekly magazine published an article detailing how the governor had misappropriated political campaign funds for lavish travel, gifts and even art works for personal display.
On one “inspection” trip to London and Paris, Masuzoe reportedly spent about $500,000 on first class airline tickets and luxury accommodations in the two cities.
For weeks, as the controversy gained steam, the governor tried to tough things out, citing opinions from his lawyers that his expenses, though “improper”, were technically legal under Japan’s public funds laws.
In the end he was reduced to pleading with his critics to allow him to stay in office at least until after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where he was scheduled to accept the Olympic flag and bring it back to Japan in preparations for Tokyo’s own Games in 2020.
A member of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic organizing committee expressed disappointment in Masuzoe’s resignation.
“He had a strong attachment to the Games and spoke passionately of making them a success,” said Yuko Arakida, adding “this is not presenting a good image”.
Among other things, Masuzoe’s resignation and need for a special election, means that his successor would be coming up for re-election right in the middle of the 2020 Games.
Had Masuzoe finished his four-year term, he could have been re-elected well before the Games began.
The scandal in the governor’s office is one in a series of foul ups in the planning for the Tokyo Games since they were announced in 2013. They include a cancellation of the first national stadium plan as too costly and plagiarism involving the Games logo.
Each of the capital’s last three governors left office prematurely, creating instability in governance.
Shintaro Ishihara resigned to form a new political party, Naoki Inose, resigned after becoming embroiled in a scandal involving loans from a hospital corporation, and now Masuzoe.
So far no major candidates have announced plans to run for the office.
Masuzoe’s indiscretions amounted to an estimated 4.4 million yen ($42,300). Electing a replacement will cost Tokyo taxpayers roughly 50 billion yen.