National / Politics

Former LDP defense chief Koike goes rogue, announces bid to be Tokyo's first female governor

by Tomohiro Osaki and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writers

Former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike on Wednesday announced her intention to run in the Tokyo gubernatorial election slated for next month, an apparent act of defiance against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Tokyo chapter.

If elected, Koike would be the first female leader to head the Japanese capital. But given a lack of support from within the party and access to its campaign mechanisms, her chances of being elected remain unclear.

“As the (central) government pushes for a society where ‘women can shine,’ I think a female governor of Tokyo would be the perfect embodiment of that idea,” the 63-year-old Koike said at a news conference.

Koike said that if elected in the July 31 poll, she would bolster aid for children living below the poverty line, child-rearing households and public nursing services for the elderly.

Koike’s announcement surprised Tokyo-based LDP executives after she had earlier agreed that the Tokyo chapter leadership would collectively choose its official candidate.

According to media reports, the LDP’s Tokyo chapter is considering asking Shun Sakurai, the former administrative minister at the internal affairs ministry, to run.

Koike, however, ignored the party process and held the news conference without notifying the party chapter in advance, a senior Tokyo-based LDP lawmaker said.

“She’s acting as if she is seeking trouble” with the LDP, the lawmaker said, adding that Koike might be preparing to bolt the party.

The gubernatorial election will take place to replace the scandal-hit former Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe, who was pressured into resigning earlier this month amid widespread public outrage over his misuse of political funds.

Masuzoe’s sudden exit spelled trouble for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as the timing meant another gubernatorial election would need to be held just before the games’ kickoff, since gubernatorial terms last four years.

The Tokyo Olympics run from July 24 through Aug. 9, 2020, and a new governor would take up the post smack in the middle of the event.

But in a bid to forestall possible confusion among the metropolitan government, Koike promised Wednesday that, if elected, she would resign six months before her four-year term expires, leaving enough time before the resulting election and the Olympics.

As for the lead-up to the games, Koike pledged strong leadership and a transparent decision-making process, so that “Tokyoites will feel much closer” to the event.

Asked whether she would stick to her guns and run for the slot even without an LDP endorsement, Koike repeatedly emphasized that she would “gauge the situation” and decide how to proceed.

During the news conference, Koike also said she would draw on her experience caring for her terminally ill mother at home.

Koike shot to stardom in 2007 when she became the country’s first female defense minister. As a former environment minister, she also launched Japan’s so-called Cool Biz campaign for casual dress at workplaces in a bid to curb electricity consumption.

Other names being floated as candidates include Kenji Utsunomiya, a former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations who is likely to be backed by opposition parties, and Yoshihiro Katayama, a former prefectural governor of Tottori.

Utsunomiya, who failed his bid for the race twice, is a strong human rights activist known for his anti-poverty views.