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Friday, Jan. 21, 2011
Quality of local politics
In the Jan. 16 mayoral election in Akune, Kagoshima Prefecture, residents chose a newcomer over the former "autocratic" mayor. But it is uncertain whether the electoral results will bring back normalcy to the city soon.
The former mayor Shinichi Takehara was recalled in December in a referendum. He had been criticized for taking advantage of a provision under the Local Autonomy Law that lets a local government head take unilateral actions, in an emergency situation, on important matters without calling an assembly. This way he had halved the bonus of city office workers, introduced a per diem system for city assembly members and appointed a former police officer of Ehime Prefecture to vice mayor.
Mr. Yoshimasa Nishihara, a chicken farm operator, defeated Mr. Takehara by a small margin of 864 votes — 8,509 to 7,645. After the election, Mr. Nishihara said he would seek dialogue with the assembly and city office workers. He also said he would continue the per diem system for assembly members but hinted that he may raise the bonus for city office workers.
The election result shows that a near majority of Akune voters support the former mayor's call for drastic reform of the city administration despite his autocratic approach. He had attacked city office workers for being guaranteed an average annual income of some ¥6 million at a time when citizens are suffering from an economic downturn. He also had criticized the city assembly for neglecting the views of ordinary citizens.
The assembly passed a no-confidence motion against Mr. Takehara twice. But he was re-elected in May 2009. Citizens supporting him last year succeeded in collecting enough signatures to hold a referendum on whether the city assembly should be recalled. That referendum will be held Feb. 20.
The lesson from Akune is that citizens must closely watch the mayor and the assembly to prevent municipal politics from falling into confusion. Public political consciousness exerts a strong influence over the quality of local politics. On their part, the assembly needs to improve its performance and the new mayor needs to strengthen the city's economic base.