Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga Backs Yokohama Anti-Casino Candidate

Posted on: August 10, 2021, 03:29h. 

Last updated on: August 10, 2021, 04:00h.

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has narrowed down his pick of the eight candidates running for mayor of Yokohama. And to some surprise, Suga isn’t backing the incumbent who shares his party affiliation.

Japan integrated resort casino Yokohama mayor
Hachiro Okonogi (right) stands next to a bowing Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Okonogi is challenging Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi during this month’s mayoral election. (Image: The Japan Times)

Japan’s top government official said today that he’s backing former National Public Safety Commission Chairman Hachiro Okonogi to succeed Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi.

No other person can become the face of Yokohama like he can. I wholly support him,” Suga declared of Okonogi.

Hayashi is seeking a nearly unprecedented fourth four-year term. While the mayor’s office isn’t subjected to term limits, there’s an unwritten rule that’s been adhered to for decades that mayors exit the post after serving three full terms.

Hayashi and Okonogi are both members of Suga’s controlling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). But when it comes to casino gambling, the two mayoral candidates have starkly different views.

Hayashi supports Japan’s second-most populated city vying for one of the central government’s three forthcoming commercial gaming licenses. Okonogi, a former representative in the National Diet — Japan’s version of Congress — and member of both Suga and his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s cabinets, does not.

Yokohama citizens will elect their next mayor on August 22.

Suga Worried About Retaining Power

Suga is set for reelection this fall. The Diet elects the prime minister, but Suga’s LDP and its sister party Komeito are losing popularity throughout Japan.

In what was considered a major blow, LDP opposition gained power during Tokyo’s Metropolitan Assembly election held last month.

“I’ll humbly accept the fact that the LDP and Komeito couldn’t win a majority as we promised,” Suga said in July. “I imagine there are various factors … but the party headquarters and our Tokyo branch will coordinate to analyze the outcome and prepare for the next election.”

A major issue is thought to be the LDP/Komeito’s efforts to use multibillion-dollar integrated resort (IR) casinos as catalysts for tourism growth. Polling has suggested that casinos are unpopular among the general public. But Suga and his LDP-controlled Diet have pressed on.

Dismal approval ratings for Suga might have led to him embracing Okonogi in Yokohama.

“Suga’s support of close ally Hachiro Okonogi smacks of a desperate about-face, since he has long-touted Yokohama as a location for an integrated resort featuring a casino as the main draw,” an op-ed this week in The Asahi Shimbun read. “The outcome of the mayoral election is expected to impact Suga’s prospects as LDP leader, as his approval rating continues falling due to the government’s heavily criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Casinos Waiting

Genting Group and Melco Resorts are the two finalists seeking to build an IR in Yokohama. The prefecture and city are expected to choose their casino development partner in the coming weeks.

The Diet has already legalized commercial gambling and three IRs. But only four cities remain interested. Along with Yokohama, Osaka, Nagasaki, and Wakayama are vying for the gaming permits.

But the mayoral election later this month in Yokohama could result in the bidding pool being cut to only three candidate locations.