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Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011

ANALYSIS

Victors bask after political hat trick

Populist pair 'overcome' politics as usual


Staff writer

OSAKA — At an October reception in central Nagoya for delegates to the U.N. COP10 meeting on biodiversity, Mayor Takashi Kawamura seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. As he was leaving, his face flushed red, he suddenly broke into English, singing the gospel classic "We Shall Overcome" but giving it his own twist.

News photo
The spoils: Takashi Kawamura (above), who was re-elected Nagoya mayor, and Hideki Omura, who won the Aichi gubernatorial race, face the media Monday morning after their poll victories the previous night. KYODO PHOTO
News photo

"We shall overcome the Nagoya city assembly," Kawamura said, as nervous aides led him to a waiting car.

On Sunday, Kawamura did just that. With his re-election, approval of a referendum to dissolve the city assembly that he backed, and a victory in the gubernatorial election by his ally, Hideaki Omura, Kawamura scored a political hat trick, sending shock waves through the Democratic Party of Japan, whose candidates were drubbed, and increasing pressure on Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the DPJ chief, to dissolve the Lower House.

Kawamura received over 662,000 votes, or 400,000 more than Yoshihiro Ishida, 65, a former Lower House member who had the support of the DPJ and many members of the local Liberal Democratic Party chapter. Omura won the governor's seat with about 1.5 million votes, nearly 1 million more than his closest rival.

In postelection interviews, Kawamura said his promise to halve the assembly's salaries was the issue that resonated most with voters, although many supporters, especially in Nagoya's business community, told local media they favored his other pledge to make a 10 percent municipal income tax reduction permanent.

The mayor is now looking ahead to the assembly election expected next month and to the candidates who will be fielded by his party, Low Tax Japan.

"The city assembly election is a clear battle. But if the new assembly members don't vote to reduce taxes and their own salaries, people are going to ask what Sunday's election was for," Kawamura said early Monday.

Omura credited his victory to tying up with Kawamura. Unlike the mayor, who is concentrating on capturing the municipal assembly next month, the new governor has his eye on a string of local-level elections in April.

"I've already been in touch with several people seeking to enter politics about the possibility of running for the prefectural assembly with our party's support. But if current politicians, whether they belong to the DPJ or the LDP, want to join or support us, we welcome them," Omura said Sunday night following his victory.

While Omura and Kawamura are local politicians focused on winning local races, their victories are putting more attention on the growing national influence of local populist movements led by challengers to the status quo.

Like many members of America's tea party movement, these politicians and their supporters are highly critical of centralized government power and dissatisfied with the politics being waged by the major ruling and opposition parties.

The established parties thus worry Sunday's victories by Kawamura and Omura will lead to further defeats in April — especially in urban districts where the DPJ in particular has traditionally done well. More defeats will make it extremely likely Kan will be forced to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election, possibly by this summer.

That would likely be welcomed by one of the biggest winners in Sunday's election, even though he wasn't even running.

Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto and his party, One Osaka, strongly backed Kawamura and Omura, traveling to Nagoya during the campaign to offer support, especially for their efforts to merge Nagoya and Aichi into one superstate with increased local autonomy from Tokyo.

Hashimoto is pushing for something similar in Osaka, and support for these efforts seems to be growing elsewhere. Just before Sunday's election, Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida and Niigata Mayor Akira Shinoda announced they favored forming a Niigata superstate modeled on what Hashimoto, Omura and Kawamura are trying to accomplish.

Hashimoto may not have been singing "We Shall Overcome" after Sunday's victory. But he said politicians like the Nagoya mayor and new Aichi governor were more in touch with voters than either the DPJ or the LDP.

"It's clear Sunday's victories by Kawamura and Omura were because the electorate had an aversion to established political parties and that, in the case of Nagoya, they distrusted the city assembly, Hashimoto told reporters in Osaka Monday morning. "These feelings are symbolic of attitudes in not only Aichi and Nagoya, but nationwide."



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