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2011年1月19日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 18
EDITORIAL: Unified local elections

This spring, voters head to the polls for unified local elections.

On April 10, 13 gubernatorial elections, including the one to choose the chief of the Tokyo metropolitan government, will be held along with polls to elect the assemblies for 44 prefectures, including Osaka. On April 24, mayoral and municipal assembly elections will take place around the nation.

Due mainly to changes of election days caused by mergers among cities, towns and villages, the ratio of elections to be held this spring to all local polls will be a record low, falling to the 28-percent range.
Still, more than 1,000 local elections will be conducted nationwide, meaning that most voters will have at least one opportunity to cast ballots.

Local politics today are quite different from what they used to be.

A growing number of local government chiefs are locking horns with assemblies.

On Monday, it was announced that a referendum on whether to dissolve the Nagoya city council will take place Feb. 6.

Mayor Takashi Kawamura is leading the recall campaign to dissolve the assembly, which rejected his proposal for permanent local tax cuts. He has collected signatures from more than 360,000 voters in the city.

On Sunday, a mayoral election was held in the city of Akune, Kagoshima Prefecture. Its citizens, through an earlier referendum, had sacked Mayor Shinichi Takehara, who had long been at loggerheads with the municipal assembly.

Takehara, who was criticized for ignoring the assembly, was defeated in Sunday's vote. Citizens will deliver their verdict on the city assembly next month when a referendum is held on whether to dissolve it.

The developments in Nagoya and Akune represent two extreme examples of a clash between a local government chief and the assembly.

In both cases, the mayor acted in a high-handed way and treated the assembly as a nuisance, while the assembly lost the trust of citizens as it sat snug in the comfort of its privileges and apparently stopped acting on behalf of the public.

Similar criticism of local assemblies has emerged in various parts of the country, and there are signs that many of the candidates for gubernatorial and mayoral elections this spring will promise to cut the numbers of local assembly members and their salaries.

Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto is also deeply unhappy with the prefectural assembly.

Hashimoto has been campaigning to secure a majority for his own local political party in the prefectural assembly and the city assemblies of Osaka and Sakai.
His truculent stance toward the old-style assembly can be described as a form of "quarrel democracy."

One question voters will face in the spring elections is how to assess such an approach to politics.

Politicians in this camp tend to seek voters' decisions in an election when they fail to work out a political compromise through talks.

What kind of relationship should there be between a local government head and the assembly, which are both elected as representatives of the public?

The political battles in Osaka, Nagoya and Akune offer good case studies that help voters tackle this question.

The role of citizens is a crucial issue in any debate on this topic.

In the past, many local assemblies used to rubber-stamp the local government chief's proposals because residents paid little attention to what their assemblies were doing.

One big difference between local politics and national politics is that residents have the power to directly fire a local government chief or dissolve a local assembly through a referendum.

Local governments should operate with tense relationships existing among the local chief, the assembly and the citizens, who can be directly involved in politics.

Therefore, residents must shoulder the burden if the local government goes bankrupt, as did the city of Yubari, Hokkaido.

Under the principle of popular sovereignty, residents, who have the right to elect the local government chief and the assembly, must pay the price if those they elect mismanage their local politics.

Voters should keep this in mind as they cast their ballots this spring.


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