Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi Committed to Casino Resort

Posted on: July 16, 2021, 10:15h. 

Last updated on: July 16, 2021, 01:26h.

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi has formally announced her reelection campaign for what would be a nearly unprecedented fourth term.

Yokohama mayor Fumiko Hayashi casino
Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi addresses the media as she formally declares that she is seeking a fourth term. The August 22 mayoral election outcome is expected to be largely based on attitudes towards casino gambling. (Image: Jiji Press)

Her Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which controls the National Diet in Japan’s central government as well as the Yokohama City Council, has opted not to endorse her for a fourth term. That’s due to her age — 75 years old — and an unwritten rule that encourages Yokohama mayors to pass the torch on to someone else following three four-year terms. 

But with the city’s potential integrated resort (IR) casino project hanging in the balance, the reality of the multibillion-dollar development expected to be dependent on the outcome of next month’s mayoral election, Hayashi says she is running again.

I’ll continue to promote the IR plan,” Hayashi declared while announcing her fourth mayoral campaign. “[The casino] is very important for Yokohama’s future.” 

None of her eight opponents has publicly endorsed Yokohama bidding on one of Japan’s three IR licenses. She represents the city’s best chances of bringing a casino to the region in an effort to spur tourism and economic growth.

Likely Favorite

In major US elections, candidates often spend years campaigning for office. In Japan, political efforts are also in the works for a considerable time. But their official candidacies are confirmed far closer to the actual election date. 

It’s long been presumed that Hayashi would seek a fourth term. This week, the “Yokohama Citizens’ Association Aiming for Re-election of Mayor Fumiko Hayashi,” was officially unveiled. The committee will work to make sure Hayashi is reelected on August 22.

While national opinion polls over the last couple of years show a divided public on commercial gambling, the Yokohama Citizens’ Association believes there’s a considerable portion of city residents who want an IR. With the eight other candidates expected to divvy the anti-casino vote, Hayashi’s odds of reelection appear strong. 

The casino subject was also a critical issue during the three-candidate 2017 Yokohama mayoral election. Hayashi won over 53 percent of the vote, as the two other candidates, both running on gambling opposition platforms, split the other 47 percent.

“The last election in 2017 ended with the second and third place candidates having both run on similar anti-casino platforms, ultimately splitting the non-Hayashi votes down the middle,” Joji Kokuryo, managing director of Tokyo-based Bay City Ventures, told The Japan Times last week.

Greatest Threat

Hayashi’s most significant opponent is, perhaps, LDP member Hachiro Okonogi. In June, the Diet rep resigned from his post and his position as chair of the National Public Safety Commission and minister of the Casino Regulatory Commission to challenge Hayashi.

Okonogi’s decision was seen as a betrayal to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and his predecessor PM Shinzo Abe. Okonogi served in prominent positions in both administrations.

I’m running for mayor in order to stop the casino bid effort,” Okonogi said last month announcing his mayoral entry. “Many people oppose the plan, and the environment in Yokohama is not right for it now.”

Thirty-seven days remain until the mayoral election is decided.