Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike declared victory in yesterday’s vote to elect the leader of one of the world’s most populous cities after Japanese media said exit polls showed her winning in a landslide.
Koike, 71, a former minister and television anchor, has been Tokyo governor since 2016 and immediately vowed to strengthen the Japanese capital’s welfare, economy, and management of natural disasters.
Exit polls by public broadcaster NHK and other media after voting stations closed at 8pm showed Koike had shrugged off challenges from other candidates.
Among her most prominent challengers had been another woman running in Japan’s male-dominated political sphere, the 56-year-old former opposition lawmaker, model and TV anchor Renho, who goes by one name.
“With Tokyoites’ strong support, I was assigned to lead this great city Tokyo,” Koike told her supporters after exit polls showed she had won her third term as governor of the megacity of 14mn people.
“Today Japan and Tokyo face various challenges”, such as inflation and the low birth rate, Koike said.
“I have to upgrade efforts of Tokyo’s reforms, and as I appealed in my election campaign, I will protect Tokyo residents’ lives and livelihoods,” she said.
Japan has never had a woman prime minister and a large majority of lawmakers are men, although Tokyo accounts for a 10th of the national population and a fifth of the economy.
While much of the campaigning attention centred on Koike and Renho, NHK’s poll showed independent candidate Shinji Ishimaru, 41, the former mayor of Akitakata in western Japan, coming second.
Ishimaru had stressed his financial expertise as a former banker.
Japanese media said the Tokyo election would have some impact on national politics because the opposition bloc had supported Renho while Koike was backed by an alliance led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), of which she was a former member.
The Japanese government’s public support rate has been dwindling to around 20%, partly due to a political funds scandal revealed late last year, and Kishida will face the LDP leadership election later this year before a national vote due by late 2025.
The Tokyo vote comes after new government data showed the birth rate hit a record low of 1.20 last year, with Tokyo’s figure 0.99 – the first Japan region to fall below one.
Koike and her major rivals pledged to expand support for parenting, with the former promising subsidised epidurals.
“After having their first child, I hear people say they don’t want to experience that pain again,” Koike said during the election campaign, according to local media. “I want people to see childbirth and raising children as a happiness, not a risk.”
Vote counting started immediately after ballot boxes closed and the official result will be announced by early morning today.
A record 56 people were standing in the election, not all of them serious, with one dressing as “The Joker” and calling for polygamy to be legalised.
Others campaigned for more golf, poker or just to advertise their premises in Tokyo’s red-light district.
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