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We call for democratic revival in Japan’s most famous hot springs town of Kusatsu to stop the mayor’s plebiscite to remove a female councilor!













 Last year, when I, Shoko Arai, the only female councilor in the Japanese town of  Kusatsu, publicly accused Nobutada Kuroiwa, the mayor of Kusatsu, famous for its hot springs, of sexual harassment and sexual violence, the town council punished me by expelling me from the council for ‘bringing the mayor’s name into disrepute’ and for ‘injuring the dignity of the council’. I immediately lodged a complaint with the Gunma Prefectural Government, and, as a result, in July this year, the prefectural governor, Kazuta Yamamoto, ruled that my expulsion was illegal, and it was rescinded.

 However, Kuroiwa, along with the chairman of Kusatsu council and the other council members who had imposed the original punishment on me, disagreed with the prefectural governor's decision, arguing that his review was ‘inadequate’. These men, who want me gone at any cost, have now launched a plebiscite to remove me.

 The plebiscite mechanism they are using is an administrative process introduced to Japan after the Second World War for the purpose of ‘fostering the development of local self-government by ensuring its operation according to the will of the people, with monitoring by the people who determine its oversight’. It is an important mechanism that allows the Japanese people to make decisions on their own initiative.

 However, rather than Kusatsu residents, the mayor and his councilors initiated the petition that was required to launch the plebiscite for my removal. This goes against the principle of citizen self-government. It is an authoritarian initiative, not only because the mayor and his councilors are leading the charge, but also because most of them are local CEOs, hoteliers, and employers, which means local townspeople are doubly under pressure to cooperate. How many of us could say no to a CEO or boss when he asks us to sign a petition?

 In the meantime, they are putting me under pressure in various ways. Every day I face expulsions from the chamber, court hearings, appearances at credentials review committees, spy-cam filming, provisional reductions of my councilor salary, and slanderous flyer drops. If people saw what was being done to me, they definitely would not refuse cooperation with the mayor—knowing what happens to those who dissent.

 It was confirmed on 16 October that the petition had attracted the required number of resident signatures, and so a plebiscite to remove me is now scheduled for 6 December 2020.

 This plebiscite must deliver a no-vote against my removal, and a no-vote against Kuroiwa's dictatorship.

 The procedure of the plebiscite is not different from that of a normal election, and so Kusatsu residents will go to the polls and vote for or against the proposal to remove me, and the outcome will be determined by the number of votes cast. I want as many of the town's residents as possible to go to the polls and vote against the proposal.

 In order for this to happen, I want the people of Kusatsu to know that people, not only in Japan but around the world, believe that this attempt to remove me from the council is not right, and that there's something wrong with democracy in the town of Kusatsu!

 Please, if you have any doubts about this proposal to remove me, or if you think it is unreasonable and unfair, I hope you will sign this ‘change.org’ petition. Kusatsu residents are fearful, and no longer know what the truth of this situation is.

 Please, please sign the petition if you believe that we should have the right kind of democracy in Kusatsu, and if you agree that the vote should be a ‘no’ to my removal!

Shoko Arai, Kusatsu Town Councilor