After an unusually long period of complexity and confusion in both the conservative and opposition camps, it is now emerging that the April Hokkaido gubernatorial race will pit liberal Tomohiro Ishikawa, 45, against conservative Naomichi Suzuki, 37.
The two young candidates will both have a challenge in bringing all members of their own side into line, for quite different reasons.
In 2009, Tomohiro Ishikawa was a national political star, with a stunning defeat of ruling party heavyweight Shoichi Nakagawa in House of Representatives elections. The following year, however, prosecutors charged him with crimes related to misuse of political funds, leading ultimately to his conviction being confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2014.
If that doesn’t sound like the resume of a major gubernatorial candidate, it’s mainly because many people believed all along that the prosecution was politically motivated by an establishment determined that Ichiro Ozawa (whose political secretary Ishikawa then served as) must not be allowed to become Japan’s prime minister. Those on the political left, in particular, believe that Ishikawa was completely innocent of the charges and was a victim of prosecutorial overreach.
Ishikawa is thus trying to make his political comeback in this race. It’s unclear how much this past will weigh against him with ordinary voters in Hokkaido.
Suzuki served two terms as mayor of Yubari city, and at the time of his first election in 2011 he was the youngest city mayor in the nation. He was originally sent to Yubari by then-Tokyo Vice-Governor Naoki Inose (who coincidentally was also later taken down by a political funds scandal). Suzuki’s two terms as mayor have been successful, and he is, for a small city mayor, unusually prominent nationally.
Suzuki effectively had to strong-arm elements of the ruling party in order to become the united conservative candidate. This included fending off a last-minute bid from Seiko Hashimoto, who is very close to the budding IR industry but who has agreed to withdraw her candidacy in order to avoid splitting conservative forces in the prefecture.
The Hokkaido gubernatorial race is thus likely to pit two young, intelligent, and energetic candidates against one another, and may very well be a hard fought contest.
From the IR industry’s perspective, Suzuki’s victory is likely a precondition for moving forward. (AGB Nippon)