Iwate Rikuzentakata mayoral election Why did the “reconstruction leader” lose | NHK

Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture, where more than 1,800 people died in the Great East Japan Earthquake. The mayoral election was held before the 12th anniversary of the earthquake.
The duel between the incumbent, who has led the restoration and reconstruction for three terms and boasts an outstanding reputation, and the newcomer, a former bureaucrat from the local area, has an unexpected ending.
(NHK Morioka Broadcasting Station Ofunato/Rikuzentakata Branch Office Hiroshi Murakami)

Four years after the thin ice victory, the “one-on-one battle” again

Mayor Futoshi Toba elected for the 3rd time in the 2019 mayoral election

Four years ago, in 2019, the Rikuzentakata mayoral election was held. The point of contention was how to proceed with reconstruction projects such as the reconstruction of the city hall, and the incumbent Mr. Futoshi Toba managed to win the election for the third time, even though he was pressed by a 5-vote margin over a newcomer who was a former director of the prefecture.
Four years later. This election was also a one-on-one battle.

The incumbent, Futoshi Toba (58), was elected for the mayoral election in February 2011 for the first time.
A month later, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck.
After that, he directed the restoration and reconstruction of the city for three terms over 12 years. He continued to disseminate information on the state of recovery, such as by giving lectures in various places, and raised the name of Rikuzentakata to the national level. Positioning his fourth term as the culmination of his career, he advocated, as the incumbent mayor, support for the lives of citizens suffering from soaring prices, and improved services for residents through the expansion of hometown tax donations.

Taku Sasaki (59), a former employee of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, took up the challenge. He is from the Hirota district of the city, which has a thriving fishing industry, and returned to his hometown in December 2022 without waiting for retirement to face his first election.
The catchphrase is “Cut the rudder ahead of reconstruction!”
By inviting universities and cutting-edge industries such as IT to create jobs for about 1,000 people and doubling the production value of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries, he made bold public promises one after another. I sued.

Mr. Futoshi Toba
Mr. Taku Sasaki

Mr. Taku Sasaki
“If the declining birthrate and the outflow of young people continue, Rikuzentakata will decline. We will support children, young people, and their parents by making school lunches free and providing scholarships. The promise of doubling the production value of the fisheries industry and other primary industries is a promise that cannot be made by public servants, and we will definitely achieve it with the advice of researchers and former members of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.”

Now that the reconstruction project has been completed, the biggest point of contention in this election, which was to select a new leader for the rest of the reconstruction, was whether to continue or renovate the municipal administration.

“Revenge” and “Mannerism”

Signboard of Mr. Sasaki’s support group

In contrast to Mr. Toba, who boasts a track record of 12 years in three terms and the organizational strength that has spread throughout the city, Mr. Sasaki returns to his hometown for the first time in about 40 years and challenges the election in just two months.
At first, it was seen as an overwhelming disadvantage, but it started with solid support from classmates and the local Hirota area, and a system was gradually established. The chairman of the neighboring Ofunato Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who served as chairman of the support for the candidate who lost by 5 votes in the election four years ago, and members of the city council are the core members.“Revenge from 4 years ago”They strengthened their unity and strengthened their offensive.
We have created a composition similar to the previous election, which divided the city in two and was a fierce election with occasional slander.

Signboard of Mr. Toba’s support group

On the other hand, the Toba camp. The city council members who supported the campaign went around their own grounds to solidify their support, and many supporters gathered at the election office every day to confirm the schedule and chat peacefully, but most of them were elderly people. The camp executives felt uneasy as the support group inherited from the former mayor’s era was also aging.

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Faction executive

“While I appreciate that they have worked so hard for the reconstruction, I feel that it is time to take over.”
“There are certainly criticisms of multiple elections. If possible, I wanted this election to end without voting.”
“It’s been 12 years since the earthquake, and now that life has settled down to a certain extent, I wonder if everyone has forgotten the hardships and thoughts of the mayor.”

impatience that became visible

At the end of the election campaign, when local newspapers reported that the party was outnumbered, Mr. Toba’s speeches on the streets, perhaps out of impatience, were seen to spend time criticizing the opposing camp and themes other than policy.

“Behind the opponent’s candidate is the president of the Ofunato Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and it seems that they are looking at municipal mergers after this election. Depending on the outcome of the election, the name of the city will change in the future.”
“There’s talk of ‘beyond reconstruction.’ That’s true. But because of the earthquake, I was worried about whether Rikuzentakata would really be revived, and I worked hard with everyone for 12 years, so I’m here now.”
“Even if you told me to cut the rudder after the reconstruction, I want to say, do you know what it was like before that?”

Mr. Sasaki on the other hand. In a street speech, I touched on the construction of a tunnel at a difficult traffic point on the border with neighboring Ichinoseki City.

“I heard that the veteran city council made a request to the prefectural governor, but in order to realize a big project, the mayor himself has to do top sales.

Unexpected Defeat

Voting day has arrived.
As a result, Mr. Toba was defeated by a large margin of about 1200 votes.
The overall voter turnout was 79%, higher than the previous time, with 84% in Mr. Sasaki’s hometown, Hirota, and over 83% in the previous rookie candidate’s hometown, Yokota, while Mr. Toba’s hometown, Takata. The district was clearly not solidified with 76%.

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Mr. Toba responded to the interview with a hint of frustration at the election office, which had a sorrowful mood in contrast to the Sasaki camp, who was overjoyed by the unexpected victory.

Mr. Futoshi Toba
“I can’t deny that there was criticism of many elections, but I can’t say everything, but I think I was able to achieve a certain amount of results in what I could do and what I should do.”
“Mr. Sasaki, there is no way you can invite a university to build a campus on the raised land.”
“I definitely want the public to fulfill their promises, and I want to support them wherever I can.”

Twelve years have passed since the earthquake. The departure of the famous mayor, who has led the reconstruction for a long time but has been whispered in a rut, has resulted in the fact that memories are fading even in the prefecture’s largest disaster area.

Interview postscript

At the opening of Mr. Toba’s election office in December 2022, the supporters of the prefectural and city councils and the representatives of the main groups gathered together, showing off the excitement with a large number of supporters and showing off the solid system. It looked like However, the words that camp executives leaked after the end were impressive.
“There is still a lump in the election four years ago. No matter who the opponent candidate is, just hearing ‘Toba Futoshi’ will cause a rejection, and the fixed votes for ‘anti-Toba’ will go over there. It will be another painful election this time. It looks like it will…”
It is feared that the “ominous prophecy” will become a reality, leaving a strong impression that the memory of the earthquake will fade and leaving a “lump” after the election.
Mr. Sasaki, who was elected as the new leader, once confessed, “If I lose the election, what should I do for the next four years?
In addition to the realization of pledges with quite high hurdles, such as “attracting universities” and “attracting cutting-edge industries to create 1,000 new jobs during the four-year term of office,” the new mayor has made a “political strife.” I would like to continue to pursue how to bring together citizens and demonstrate leadership in “town Rikuzentakata”.

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