Daunting tasks await Tokyo's new governor

Naoki Inose elected by a record margin but doubts remain whether he is up to the job

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 2:58am

He may have been elected with a record vote and may be only days into his new job, but the knives already appear to be out for Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose.

Tasked with preparing the metropolis for a major earthquake, curing the city's shrinking tax revenues, winning the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games and providing assistance to a growing number of elderly who live alone are just some of the difficult tasks he faces.

But perhaps his biggest hurdle is stepping into the very large shoes left behind by his more famous - some would say notorious - predecessor.

The post of Tokyo governor was left vacant when Shintaro Ishihara announced that he would be stepping down, after more than 13 years, to set up the Japan Restoration Party and make a return to national politics.

That he has done, winning one of the 61 seats the party took in Sunday's election for the Lower House of the Diet.

Inose beat candidates including attorney Kenji Utsunomiya, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations; former LDP science minister Takashi Sasagawa; and Shigefumi Matsuzawa, a former governor of Kanagawa prefecture.

He was made vice-governor of Tokyo in June 2007 and emphasised in his election campaign he had been hand-picked by Ishihara to carry on his work.

That message appeared to work for the electorate and he won more than 4.33 million votes, the largest number ever won by a candidate in a Japanese election and a remarkable 3.37 million more than his closest rival.

So why the questions over a reign that has only just commenced?

In an editorial last Friday, the Yomiuri newspaper opined: "It is unknown whether he is capable of governing the capital, despite having served as vice-governor for more than five years.

"The nation is now waiting for the next moves of a man who calls himself 'weird'."

Quizzed by the media after his election, 66-year-old Inose said he had served under former prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as well as Ishihara and described both men as "considerably weird".

But he added: "I think I am weird too. After all, those two offered me jobs."

TheJapan Times echoed Yomiuri's concerns, saying: "Merely continuing Mr Ishihara's policy direction and political style will not help to resolve the problems that Tokyo is facing."

All sides agree one of the biggest and most pressing problems is ShinGinko Tokyo Bank, set up by Governor Ishihara in 2004 with the explicit aim of assisting small and medium-size firms.

To date, 140 billion yen(HK$12.8 billion) in taxpayers' funds has been sunk into the bank, but it continues to haemorrhage money.

The city's education and social welfare facilities are under pressure, while joblessness is a concern among young people.

"I would say he is an unconventional figure, but not particularly controversial," said Jun Okumura, a political analyst with the Eurasia Group.

"He's a chain-smoker and has a reputation as a straight-speaker who was a muck-raking journalist before he got involved in the political world with Koizumi," he said.

"But beyond any personal quirks, I would say that he has had some success under those other leaders and it looks as if he might have some success of his own now."

One area where he bears little comparison with Ishihara is in the field of Japan's relations with its neighbours.

Whereas the former governor rarely missed an opportunity to bang the nationalist drum - and particularly relishing opportunities to confront China - Inose has focused exclusively on domestic issues.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg