AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

“This time for sure” for Sonomanma?

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 31, 2009

WE’VE HAD SEVERAL POSTS about the political career of former comedian Higashikokubaru Hideo, who performed under the name of Sonomanma Higashi as an associate of Kitano Takeshi (film director and comedian Beat Takeshi). He was elected governor of largely rural Miyazaki in January 2007 in a runoff to replace a man who resigned over bid-rigging scandals (and who was found guilty just last week).

Mr. Higashikokubaru is wildly popular among his constituents and has also become a nationally-known spokesman promoting devolution to strengthen local government in Japan. (There’s a long interview with him in the current edition of the monthly magazine Ushio.) His frequent appearances on network television programs that have nothing to do with politics have fueled speculation that he would love to maintain his national audience. The best way to do that and stay in politics is to run for a seat in the lower house election that must be held by September at the latest.

In fact, our last post on Sonomanma described discussions he supposedly had with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party about running in an election that was expected to be held in the autumn. He was prevailed upon by local supporters to finish at least one term in the statehouse before making a national move. Or so the story goes.

Others claim he refrained because it looked very much like the LDP would be beaten badly in that election, and he didn’t want to be allied with the losing side. (One of his supporters used the Japanese equivalent of the expression, “draw a short straw”.) But he might have recalcuated his chances in the wake of the scandal currently engulfing Ozawa Ichiro, the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. That has given the LDP something resembling a second wind, at least for the time being.

Speculation ramped up even further after Mr. Higashikokubaru held a fund-raising party at a Tokyo hotel last Saturday attended by about 700 people. Since taking office in January 2007, the governor has held 17 of these parties, but this was his first in the capital. Prefectural governors very seldom hold fund raisers in Tokyo, so this one raised more than a few eyebrows.

To allay concerns of the event being overtly political in an environment in which fund raising has become controversial, the only politicians invited were Diet members from Miyazaki. The reports did not include word on how much money the party brought in.

While he is being courted by the LDP, the governor ran as an independent in the gubernatorial election, saying that the only party a local politician needs is the citizens. But he is known to be philosophically closer to the devolution/reform wing of the LDP than to the opposition.

Then again, perhaps he thinks that siding with the DPJ, which is little more than an unwieldy anti-LDP coaltion held together by the Ozawan Iron Fist, would be the equivalent of drawing an even shorter straw.

One Response to ““This time for sure” for Sonomanma?”

  1. Bender said

    Others claim he refrained because it looked very much like the LDP would be beaten badly in that election, and he didn’t want to be allied with the losing side. (One of his supporters used the Japanese equivalent of the expression, “draw a short straw”.) But he might have recalcuated his chances in the wake of the scandal currently engulfing Ozawa Ichiro, the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. That has given the LDP something resembling a second wind, at least for the time being.

    Typisch Populismus!

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