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Populism Wins Again in Nagoya

SNA (Tokyo) — More than one commentator has pointed out that while populism is gaining strength in most advanced nations, Japan seems to have been left behind. Yesterday’s mayoral race is one piece of evidence, however, that populism can indeed win elections in Japan, but the problem is that there are so few politicians in this country who seem to have the personal political talents to tap into it.

Takashi Kawamura, 68, has won a fourth term as Nagoya mayor. He stomped his main opponent by a margin of 455,000 votes to 196,000 votes. While that may not at first glance seem unusual for an incumbent mayor facing a challenger, what is remarkable is that the incumbent pulled off this feat while being opposed by the local chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, Komeito, the Japan Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, as well as his former ally Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura.

The often clownish Mayor Kawamura is the leader of a microparty called “Tax Cut Japan,” whose signature policy you can probably guess. His other main push in recent years is to rebuild Nagoya Castle with wood, rather than concrete, in order to make it more similar to the historical structure and boost tourism. Nagoya has sometimes polled as Japan’s “least attractive city” to domestic travelers.

Kawamura has always had shifting political alliances. Before creating his own party he had migrated through six other political parties, including the LDP and the DPJ. He tried to run for DPJ leader in 2005 and again in 2006, but couldn’t gather enough support. Even after he became Nagoya mayor in 2009 and formed his own party, he had short-lived alliances with various other movements.

Mayor Kawamura campaigned in February on behalf of Mayor Masami Ishikawa of Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, as a de facto ally of Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike against the local chapter of the ruling LDP.

Despite another landslide victory, Mayor Kawamura’s populist appeal has never translated into effective organizational skills. His Tax Cut Japan allies hold only 12 of the 75 seats in the Nagoya City Council, with the four opposition parties holding a combined 63 seats.

This appears to be what sets Yuriko Koike apart from some other populists such as Junichiro Koizumi and Takashi Kawamura. She seems to know not only how to capture the public imagination, but also how to institutionalize her power.

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