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Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2005
Loyalties to party, candidates put to test
Tokyo No. 10: swing vote may hold key as LDP outsider faces veteran
By ERIKO ARITA
Politics are about making decisions, and some of the most difficult ones are those based on where loyalties lie.
Those with ties to the Liberal Democratic Party are finding this out the hard way in the Tokyo No. 10 district, which covers Toshima Ward and part of neighboring Nerima Ward, ahead of Sunday's general election.
The man who won in this district in the last election, Koki Kobayashi, has been elected to the House of Representatives four times on the LDP ticket. This time, he is running on the newly formed New Party Nippon's ticket after being denied LDP backing in the election as punishment for voting against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal privatization bills.
Environment Minister Yuriko Koike instead has the "official LDP candidate" emblazoned on her sash as she campaigns in the district.
"I left (my home district) of Hyogo (Prefecture) and came to the No. 10 district to break new ground," she said in addressing a crowd gathered outside JR Ikebukuro Station when official campaigning began Aug 30. "I want to meet the expectations of the people here who seek reform."
But while she has the full backing of the LDP and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, Kobayashi still enjoys strong support in the district, where the Democratic Party of Japan is fielding Muneaki Samejima and the Japanese Communist Party has put up Toshie Yamamoto.
Observers say Koike is fighting a battle on two fronts -- trying to win over Kobayashi's support base while striving to appeal to voters with no party affiliation, a segment Samejima is also targeting after losing narrowly to Kobayashi in the last general election, in November 2003.
One 72-year-old Ikebukuro resident in the crowd that came to hear Koike near the station vowed to vote for the 53-year-old TV anchorwoman-turned-politician and Cairo University graduate.
"Without (postal service) reform, the problems of the pension system and taxes will not be resolved," she said.
Meanwhile, Chizuko Totake, an Ikebukuro resident and journalist specializing in information technology issues, said she supports Koike because she feels the minister speaks clearly and is a woman of action, as seen in her spearheading of the government's "Cool Biz" casual office dress code this summer.
Tomoharu Tazawa, head of the LDP's Toshima chapter, acknowledged that endorsing Koike did not come easy, and that chapter members first spent hours discussing policies with Koike in mid-August.
"Ms. Koike has a great personality and a good sense for international affairs," he said.
At the same time, however, Tazawa added that it was "heartbreaking" for the chapter to turn its back on Kobayashi, and explained that many LDP supporters decided to back Koike only after Kobayashi joined the new party made up mainly of LDP postal reform foes.
Meanwhile, Keiichi Nagahashi, a Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member of New Komeito, said his party's local assembly members back Koike, but noted that Kobayashi has strong bonds with residents.
Kobayashi's campaign is focused on the problems with the government's postal privatization plan.
During a rally on Aug. 27, he argued that the postal service should continue to be public, albeit with more efficient management.
"The postal privatization bills that Mr. Koizumi drew up under pressure from (U.S. President George W.) Bush are riddled with problems," he claimed, noting the postal financial entities, once privatized, could be taken over by foreign capital.
Kanji Yokota, a member of the audience and a resident of the Kotake district of Toshima Ward, where Kobayashi lives, said he has supported Kobayashi since the politician's first election.
Kazuichiro Ogimura, who runs a fruit shop along a shopping street near JR Otsuka Station, said he will vote for Kobayashi, who helped secure a budget for a redevelopment project near the station that Ogimura and other shop owners had sought for years.
"The plan was given government funding when Mr. Kobayashi was vice finance minister," he explained.
But Tsuyoshi Fukuzawa, one of four LDP members of the Nerima Ward Assembly who once served as a secretary to Kobayashi, said the race will be close.
Fukuzawa lamented that he wants to support Kobayashi but cannot because he must obey the LDP Nerima chapter's decision to endorse Koike.
He predicted LDP supporters' votes will be split between Kobayashi and Koike, with New Komeito votes going to Koike. The unaffiliated voters will probably be fought over by Koike and the DPJ's Samejima, he added.
In the last election, Samejima lost to Kobayashi by 4,562 votes, but won a Diet seat through proportional representation.
Samejima has said he is targeting swing voters, especially those of the baby-boom generation, whom he considers liberal. He also hopes to woo the female vote, as he feels many women will regard Koizumi's tactic of fielding many female "assassin" candidates against the postal rebels as reverse gender discrimination.
At one meeting with residents in Nerima, Samejima argued that the government should abolish 16 specific public works projects and channel the money toward welfare and pensions.
"If Koizumi were a true reformer, he would have taken measures to stop these projects," he argued. "But he's done nothing the past four years."
The JCP's Yamamoto, a former board member of a liaison group of consumer organizations in Toshima, argues that both the LDP and DPJ want to increase taxes and revise the pacifist Constitution.
Fukuzawa of the Nerima Ward Assembly predicted the unaffiliated voters will sway the election's results, but media polls so far show many voters remain undecided about who to vote for.
A 38-year-old woman who lives in Toshima Ward said she plans to cast a ballot for the first time in years.
"I'll vote because I feel Koizumi's way of denying the candidacy of those who opposed postal privatization is wrong and want to express my opinion," she said.
But she acknowledged she has yet to decide who to vote for.
Nagahashi of the metro assembly said he is concerned that Koike, who has no ties with the district, may fail to gain voter support, unlike Kobayashi, who has a core base, while Samejima fought a close race with Kobayashi in the last election.
"It will be a three-way struggle."