After COVID and the Olympics, Yuriko Koike begins her third term as Tokyo governor

by Toby Luckhurst, BBC News, London

Getty Images Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike at a campaign rally in TokyoGetty Images

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike elected for third term

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is set to win a third consecutive term in Sunday’s gubernatorial election, according to exit polls.

The 71-year-old will be the first female governor of Japan’s most populous city and will hold the position for the next four years.

Her victory will come as a relief to embattled Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which backed the 71-year-old to win a third term.

She was elected in 2016 and won a second term in 2020. The conservative governor successfully guided the city through the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponed Summer Olympics to 2021.

Japan’s falling birth rate will be a major issue in the election, and the winning candidate will now have to work hard to improve Tokyo’s shockingly low birth rate: 0.99 births per woman aged 15 to 49, the lowest in the country.

The appointment makes her one of the most influential women in Japanese politics, a male-dominated region. Tokyo accounts for about 11 percent of Japan’s population and 20 percent of its gross domestic product.

This will also put her in charge of the city’s budget, which this year reached a staggering 16.55 trillion yen ($100 billion, £80 billion).

Koike, 71, won more than 40% of the vote, according to Reuters.

Koike declared victory and said the biggest challenge was “how to advance digital transformation as the industry undergoes major changes.”

She said she would step up efforts to improve Tokyo, including the environment for women to flourish, but called it “insufficient.” [in Japan] compared to other parts of the world.”

Unexpectedly, independent Shinji Ishimaru (41), former mayor of Akitakata city in Hiroshima prefecture, came in second, a position long thought to be guaranteed to go to Renho Saito.

Renho (56 years old), who is supported by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, came in third place.

Mr. Ishimaru, Before the official campaign began, it was not well known in Tokyo.

During the election campaign, he focused on increasing his profile by reaching out to his large social media following.

Ishimaru’s success is attributed to his appeal among young voters. The former banker It also places emphasis on the economic and industrial development of Tokyo.

“I did all I could,” he told supporters after voting had finished, suggesting that, unlike the two main candidates, he was not affiliated with any particular party.

Getty Images Tokyo gubernatorial candidate and former mayor of Akitakata, Hiroshima Prefecture, Shinji Ishimaru speaks during a campaign in Tokyo. Getty Images

Ishimaru mobilized young voters through his large online following.

Who is Yuriko Koike?

Yuriko Koike began her career as a journalist and worked as a television news anchor before moving into politics in the early 1990s.

But she really rose to national prominence after she was first elected governor of Tokyo in 2016. Though she was not the official LDP candidate, she still won handily with over 2.9 million votes, becoming the first female governor of Tokyo.

“I will lead Tokyo’s politics in an unprecedented way, a Tokyo you have never seen before,” Koike promised supporters on election night.

She formally left the LDP in 2017 to set up her own political party, but retains the support of many within the party who backed her in the 2024 election.

Getty Images Yuriko Koike 2017 Election CampaignGetty Images

Yuriko Koike became Tokyo’s first female governor in 2016.

Koike vowed to focus her time in office on local issues such as crowded public transport and the city’s culture of overwork, but the primary focus of her tenure has been on global problems.

The emergence of the coronavirus forced Tokyo to postpone the Summer Olympics scheduled for 2020. Koike was elected for a second term that same year for her successful response to the pandemic and garnered further plaudits for her management of the postponed Olympics, which were held in Tokyo in 2021 in the shadow of COVID-19.

Koike, But she has not been able to escape scandal. Allegations that she did not graduate from Cairo University first surfaced during her first term and have continued to linger. Despite her repeated denials and a statement from the university confirming her graduation, rumors that she had faked her graduation documents continued to circulate while she sought a third term as governor.

Opponents also criticized her for failing to deliver on her campaign promises in Tokyo, where they say trains remain crowded and the culture of overwork remains a problem.

Of the 56 candidates to be chosen by voters, Saito Renho was expected to be Koike’s main opponent.

The former House of Councillors member was supported by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, as well as the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

Renho left the Constitutional Democratic Party before the official election campaign began on June 20. She lost her House of Councillors seat when she announced her candidacy.

Getty Images Renho waves during an election campaignGetty Images

Renho ran as an independent against Koike.

She became the center-left group’s first woman leader in 2016 but resigned a year later following the group’s poor performance in the Tokyo assembly election.

Japanese media reported the election campaign, in which a conservative incumbent politician challenged a left-wing opposition politician, as a proxy war between national political parties.

The gubernatorial election took place in an atmosphere of general distrust in politics, which critics say is partly linked to Japan’s economic woes, the subsequent end of a long historical period of deflation and a weak yen.

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