Tokyo voters head to the polls Sunday with incumbent Governor Yuriko Koike heavily favored to prevail over 21 challengers as the city tries to keep a fresh surge of Covid-19 in check and maintain hopes of hosting the Olympics in 2021.
Koike, the first woman elected to govern the 14 million-strong city, has won support for her management of the pandemic. This has propelled her to a commanding lead in the polls ahead of an election that could give her a second four-year term. Voting runs from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with projected results likely to be published shortly after that.
The election comes after newly confirmed cases topped 100 a day in the early days of July for the first time since May, raising worries of a second surge of infections and new restrictions on businesses such as nightclubs that are seen as centers of the spread.
Local governments have been urging residents to keep their distance from others and cast their votes in advance or early in the day to avoid crowds that could spread the coronavirus. Koike herself shunned public speeches for safety reasons, instead opting to campaign online.
Former TV anchor Koike became a constant media presence as Covid-19 infections peaked in the Japanese capital in April, pressing people to stay home and businesses to shut down. Her support rate soared by 20 percentage points to around 70% between March and May,according to one poll, with many respondents rating her as one of the more effective political leaders during the crisis.
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If all goes to plan, a victory could allow her to host a delayed and scaled-back Tokyo Olympics next summer. In the meantime, she has pledged to prepare the capital for another wave of viral infections. Koike has faced accusations that she’s avoiding reimposing any restrictions on people’s behavior for fear of losing voter support.
Tokyo’s gubernatorial election tends to attract a colorful array of candidates. Among Koike’s more serious rivals is anti-poverty campaigner Kenji Utsunomiya, former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Others include Masayuki Hiratsuka, who campaigned under the slogan: “Corona is just a cold,” and Taro Yamamoto, who called for the Olympics to be canceled.
Just over four years ago, former environment minister Koike gave up her seat in parliament to run in the capital’s election, pledging to slash her own salary and cut the cost of hosting the summer games. She defeated 20 rivals including one backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, of which she had been a prominent member, then led a new political group to victory in the Tokyo assembly election.
Koike next tried to build on her success by launching a national party in a bid to topple Abe, but failed when he called a snap general election before she was fully prepared.
Despite their history of bad blood, Koike now has at least the tacit acceptance of the LDP, which did not support a candidate against her this time around. It is unclear whether the 67-year-old will seek to return to the national parliament if she wins a second term ending in 2024.
— With assistance by Emi Nobuhiro
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