Hiroshima mayor’s refusal to run laid to economic woes

HIROSHIMA — The announcement by Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka that he will not seek a third term has thrown next year’s election into uncertainty.

It is expected that the Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition that supported Hiraoka, as well as the Japanese Communist Party, will put forward a candidate, and an independent may join the race too.

The mayor said his decision not to run was personal, and it caught many in the local community by surprise. Public opinion polls showed he was a strong leader, and it was widely believed a third term was his for the taking.

But Hiraoka said he was tired and no longer felt up to the job. The cause for his exhaustion may have been economic. Hiroshima’s economy continues to deteriorate.

With assembly elections also scheduled for next spring, local media pundits and some citizens are predicting disgruntled voters could elect a large number of younger, reform-minded candidates who are more direct than their predecessors. “Hiraoka’s style was still very much the old, behind-the-scenes consensus style. Hiroshima’s voters are tired of that kind of politician and may rebel against whatever party favorite is pushed at them,” said local antinuclear activist Eiichi Goto.

Hiraoka was also reportedly reluctant to face another poll with low voter turnout, fearing he would lack any sort of popular mandate. He won the 1995 election, but turnout was only 29.3 percent. “A low voter turnout is not good. The mayor should be nominated and selected by the people and have their full support,” Hiraoka said in announcing his reasons not to seek re-election.

During Hiraoka’s term as mayor, Hiroshima hosted the 1994 Asian Games, got the A-Bomb Dome listed as a World Heritage Site and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The selection of the A-Bomb Dome as a World Heritage Site won praise from many inside and outside of the city, and Hiraoka’s leadership was credited for the selection. But the Asian Games failed to generate the expected business for local merchants, who saw an overall sales drop of 2.4 percent during October 1994 despite the thousands of visitors in town for the Games.

Worse, the city and the prefecture had to issue local bonds to pay for related transportation infrastructure projects, many of which are now underused.