NIIGATA, JAPAN — `ONE vote, one revolt.'' The electricity generated by the almost 10,000 people crammed into the public hall gives the slogan on the banner palpable reality.
The crowd rises to glimpse Japan's Socialist Party leader, Takako Doi, as she strides across the crowded floor to the accompaniment of her signature music, ``My Way.'' The Socialist candidate for governor follows. People chant his name - ``Shi-to-ma.''
``Wherever I go, I hear voices that are angry at the gap between politicians and the sensibilities of average people,'' Yutaka Shitoma says. ``I have even heard such voices from shopkeepers and farmers who used to be very cool to us. I feel our support is growing.''
In this land of rice farmers on the rugged coast of the Sea of Japan, the ruling conservative party is running scared. When Niigata voters go to the polls on Sunday to elect their prefecture's governor, the Socialists stand a good chance of winning for the first time in decades. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) cannot count on the votes of those who have traditionally been its most loyal supporters.
The tremors in this conservative stronghold are being carefully watched in Tokyo as yet another indicator of the falling fortunes of the LDP. Here, as in the rest of the country, voters hope to punish the party for abusing their trust.
The Socialist candidate, a former union leader elected to the upper house of parliament, offers no grand program. He gleefully solicits a negative vote against the crimes of the ruling party:
The Recruit Company corruption scandal which has tainted virtually the entire party leadership.
The imposition since April of a 3 percent nationwide sales tax.
Agricultural reforms which are reducing subsidies for farmers and opening the market to foreign farm products.
These national problems have nothing to do with the concerns of Niigata, the conservative candidate Kiyoshi Kaneko tells his own mass rally the day before. ``But,'' he admits, ``I am afraid these problems may affect the election.''
Mr. Kaneko runs against his party's policies. If elected, he says, ``I will call on the central government to revise the sales tax.'' He will carry the farmers' case to Tokyo, where he says he has ``a strong pipeline,'' to those in power.
In selecting Kaneko, a senior bureaucrat who served as vice- governor, the LDP local branch intends in part to distance itself from the dirty image conveyed by the Recruit scandal. Kaneko is formally only ``recommended'' by the party. No party leaders have appeared to campaign for him, with one prominent exception.
That exception, the featured speaker at his rally, was party elder Masayoshi Ito, who has gained renown as the nation's only ``clean'' leader. He was widely touted as the best man to replace Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, who stepped down due to the Recruit scandal. He gained even more stature when he turned down the premiership, citing illness and discontent with the party's moves to reform.
The sales tax and agricultural reform are necessary, Mr. Ito told the audience of some 10,000 party faithful. ``But we cannot make any excuse for the scandal,'' he quickly adds. The party must carry out serious reform, including, he hinted, the resignation from parliament of former Premier Yasuhiro Nakasone during whose premiership the influence buying and bribery occurred and who has been personally tied to the Recruit Company.
With these defensive remarks, the conservatives also sounded more tried-and-true trumpets. The prosperity of Niigata depends on aid from Tokyo in the form of generous appropriations for public works projects. Ito endorses Kaneko for one main reason - he would handle Niigata's development needs.
If the opposition takes over, the conservatives warn, the well of funds from Tokyo will run dry.
Worse, the opposition are ``extreme leftists,'' says a right-wing former television newscaster in a rabble-rousing speech to end the rally. They will bring collapse to Niigata's economy just the way communists have done in China and the Soviet Union, he warns.
Such arguments carry weight among the people who live and work along the old shopping streets of Niigata City, the prefecture's capital. Kunio Okada, the fifth-generation owner of a store selling futons (Japanese bedding), has always supported the conservatives. ``That's safe for us,'' he says. ``Under the LDP, the prospects are better for shopkeepers and the town can develop.''
The governor's election, Mr. Okada also says, is separate from Recruit and the sales tax. But, he expresses his anger that the LDP politicians ``just received huge amounts of money'' and still ``hide something.'' He won't be satisfied until all those implicated ``resign en masse'' from the parliament.
Okada's divided feelings are typical of shopkeepers on the old Niigata arcade. Many said they still plan to vote for the conservative candidate for governor, but against the LDP in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Niigata is a model of pork barrel politics. The prefecture benefited from the powerful machine built by political boss Kakuei Tanaka, who rose from being a Niigata construction company owner to prime minister in 1972. He served his constituents well by arranging the construction of a high-speed train line and an expressway linking the relatively backward area to Tokyo. After Tanaka was arrested on corruption charges in 1976, he still was reelected by huge margins.
In the past, when corruption scandals have occurred, ``nothing really changed,'' Mrs. Doi told her audience. The LDP is now trying to weather the scandal by changing its leader, she charged. ``This is the time for us to give a clear answer ... If Shitoma is chosen here, Niigata will change and the whole nation will change.''