The streets were thick with snow and turnout was a poor 46 per cent when Tokyo’s citizens elected their new governor in February. With the 2020 Olympics fast approaching and the world’s largest metropolitan economy to oversee, it’s a huge job. The winner was Yoichi Masuzoe, 65, a former health minister with a colourful private life and a black belt in judo, who won 2.1 million votes – more than the combined tally of his two closest rivals.
After a brief but bruising two-week campaign, dominated by divisions over nuclear power, Masuzoe (pictured) got down to business, promising to make the Tokyo Olympics “the best ever” and to tackle the capital’s shortage of nursery places. The city government, he said, had hard work to do on everything from infrastructure and welfare to disaster prevention and public safety.
On the campaign trail Masuzoe, who was backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, tried to keep out of the nuclear discussion, saying that energy policy was best left in the hands of the (pro-nuclear) national government. Within days of taking office, he did, however, announce the creation of a joint ¥4bn (€28m) fund shared between the public and private sectors to invest in renewable energy. With no deadline set, Masuzoe says he’d like to see Tokyo’s ratio of renewables rise from 6 per cent to 20 per cent.
With all the energy of the newly elected, Masuzoe then promptly added a supplementary ¥7.7bn (€55m) to the city’s budget for 2014, bringing it to a mighty ¥13.4trn (€95.3bn).
This tranche of extra cash is going towards childcare and Olympic preparations, allowing the city to cover 80 per cent of the cost of new nurseries built by non-profit organisations and the private sector.
With Japan’s child population hitting a low in 2013 and the ongoing march towards geriatrification, child-friendly policies and care for the elderly will both have to be priorities.
Politics: As the head of the newly formed New Political Party, Ahn Cheol-soo is taking on South Korea’s political establishment once again. Ahn, the founder of the Ahnlab anti-virus software group and a former Seoul National University professor, won a following among young and disillusioned voters during his short-lived run for president last year.
Economy: It’s been decades since South Korea had double-digit growth. President Park Geun-hye is betting on the creative industries to change that. Her idea is to promote startups and help companies specialising in science and hi-tech raise their game, with specific initiatives on the way. However, it’s not easy nurturing entrepreneurial talent in a country that favours conglomerates and frowns on failure.
Diplomacy: Calling a country a “middle power” seems like a takedown. But South Korea’s move last year to form a middle-powers group with Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and Australia, known as mikta, could help it broaden its circle of allies beyond the US.