Tokyo elects first woman governor as it prepares for Olympics

Tokyo elects first woman governor as it prepares for Olympics

Voters in the Japanese capital elected their first woman governor on Sunday (July 31), after two predecessors stepped down over scandals that clouded the city’s preparations to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games.

Yuriko Koike, Japan’s first female defence minister, beat former bureaucrat and fellow member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party Hiroya Masuda, as well as liberal journalist Shuntaro Torigoe.

Koike, 64, angered the Tokyo branch of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party by not getting its approval before announcing her candidacy for city governor. The LDP instead drafted Masuda, 64, who once served as governor of a rural prefecture.

“Taking this result very heavily, as the new governor I would like move forward firmly with the administration of the metropolis,” Koike, an experienced politician fluent in English and Arabic, told supporters.

“I would like to move forward with a metropolitan administration such as has never happened, never been seen, together with all of you,” Koike said.

The sprawling city of some 13.5 million people faces a plethora of problems such as an ageing population, daycare shortage, and the ever-present possibility of a big earthquake.

But a big issue in the campaign was the 2020 Olympics, which Japan hopes will spur its economy, struggling to escape decades of deflation.

Construction of the main stadium has been delayed and the original logo for the games had to be scrapped after plagiarism accusations.

After the resignations of the city’s two previous governors, Koike will be responsible for saving Tokyo’s reputation as host for the games.

“Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, I believe we must clarify the use of a large amount of tax, not to mix official business with private affairs or to obtain economic benefits from it,” Koike said.

One of her first duties will be to travel to Rio de Janeiro when the curtain comes down on next month’s games there to accept the Olympic flag as the next host.

Some Tokyo residents said they had a lot of confidence in her.

“I saw her will and motivation when she stood up alone to run for the election without any backup from her party,” 50-year-old housewife Naomi Nishi said.

“I think Yuriko Koike is a daredevil who achieves what she has said, so I expect she will make the operation of metropolitan government in a more transparent way,” said 45-year-old Hiroyuki Matsui.

Known as a hawk on security matters, the stylish Koike first shot to fame as an anchorwoman for a popular TV business news show and was elected to parliament’s lower house in 1992 from a small opposition party whose leader briefly became premier.

She joined the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in 2002 and two years ago was picked by then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi as an “assassin” candidate to run against an anti-reform rebel. She won by a landslide.

As environment minister from 2003, Koike launched a “cool biz” campaign encouraging workers to dress down in summer months to cut back on air-conditioner use and help fight global warming.

Koike studied at Cairo University before working as an Arabic translator and teacher in her early career. She once likened herself to the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before she became the defence minister in 2007.

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Story By Reuters
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