LDP shock as minister in charge of casino regulator reveals plan to contest Yokohama mayoral election on anti-IR platform

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Yokohama city’s IR bid is continuing to make waves in local politics, and there has been another unexpected twist in the crucial mayoral elections.

According to Jiji Press, 55-year-old Hachiro Okonogi, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission of the Liberal Democratic Party, has begun to make preparations to run for the mayoral election with the end of the current mayor’s term. He has indicated that he would oppose an IR bid in what has become a critical battleground for mayoral candidates.

No one anticipated this development.

Yokohama city is currently running an RFP for its IR bid, having recently revealed that consortiums headed by Genting Singapore and Melco Resorts & Entertainment have qualified to continue with their bids.

As preparations are ongoing, the activities of IR, and particularly casino, opposition groups have intensified. The mayoral elections, to be held on Sunday 22 August, will set the direction of the entire future policy for the city. Depending on who is elected, the IR bid could be scrapped on day one of a new term.

Candidates running as independents include current city council member Masaki Ota (75) and 48-year-old Akiko Fujimura, the representative director of an animal protection group, who both oppose casinos, as well as former member of the House of Representatives and current deputy minister of Kanagawa prefecture, Mineyuki Fukuda (57), who is running on a neutral platform in regards to an IR bid.

Mayor Fumiko Hayashi (75), currently in her third term, is a proponent of an IR bid and is reported to have expressed interest in a fourth term. However, Liberal Democratic Party internal rules stipulate that candidates should only serve three consecutive terms. Further, Hayashi is elderly and there are concerns for her health, so the LDP will not support her candidacy.

On 15 June, the Kanagawa chapter of the Constitutional Democratic Party, which opposes an IR bid, announced their support for Professor Takeharu Yamanaka (48) of the Yokohama City University Academy of Medicine as an independent candidate. However, those in opposition [of a casino] have not exactly rallied to unify in support of Yamanaka. Some members of the party and resident groups who are organizing opposition activities have shown their reluctance to do so and the Japanese Communist Party, another opponent of an IR, has stated, We will see if we agree on the policies other than IR opposition first.

The news of LDP representative Okonogis intention to run landed on Sunday and has taken people by surprise.

Okonogi is a member of the House of Representatives (8th term). He has served as a minister since the Abe administration and is now chairman of the National Public Safety Commission in the Suga administration. He holds an important role as Minister of State for Disaster Management (Disaster Prevention and Ocean Policy) and Minister of State for Disaster Management and Territorial Disputes. Further, and most pertinently, he is the minister in charge of the Casino Regulatory Commission.

Okonoji will quit those roles to run for the mayoral election on a different stance from the official party line of supporting IR, which has caused tremors among officials. Shock has been the main reaction.

Okonogi is expected to join the list of candidates taking anti-IR stances, which currently comprises Ota, Fujimura, and Yamanaka. The only neutral candidate at this point is Fukuda, and no candidate has spoken up in formal support of an IR.

If neither IR promoters or supporters can unite to get behind candidates, the votes will be split.

There will be attention on when and who the LDP will nominate as their candidate. The mayoral election remains the greatest barrier to a Yokohama IR. If the bid is canceled as a result of the election, it is rumored that Tokyo may be ready to jump into the IR fray. Tokyo is said to be constantly in a ready state for such a campaign.

The election of the mayor of Yokohama is likely to have an enormous impact on how the future of integrated resorts play out across Japan.