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Former environment minister Yuriko Koike wins landslide election as Tokyo’s first female governor

LDP veteran makes history despite defying own party

by

Staff Writer

Former environment minister Yuriko Koike of the Liberal Democratic Party was elected Tokyo governor Sunday, winning a landslide victory to become the capital’s first female leader.

Despite defiantly running without the LDP’s consent, Koike, 64, defeated her two top rivals and will now oversee a city of more than 13 million residents.

“I would like to implement new policies that no one has ever seen,” Koike told supporters as she learned victory was imminent.

Her main rivals were former internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda, the preferred choice of the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition, and veteran journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, who was backed by the main opposition bloc led by the Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party.

Final tallies showed Koike won 2,912,628 votes, far surpassing Masuda’s 1,793,453 votes and Torigoe’s 1,346,103 votes. Voter turnout, meanwhile, hit 59.73 percent, up 13.59 percentage points from the 46.14 percent turnout registered in Tokyo’s last gubernatorial election in February 2014.

As the capital’s first female governor, Koike vowed to pursue policies that will promote better conditions for women.

“I believe that pushing policies for women will be good for Tokyo and bring happiness to the capital,” she said.

“I received so much support from women this election. The support made me think deeply that I have a responsibility to work on the issues of waiting lines for day care centers, elderly care and work-life balance,” Koike told reporters.

Meanwhile, Masuda bowed and apologized to his supporters for the loss after Koike’s victory was reported. “I am sorry that it turned out to be like this, even though I received strong support,” he said, according to Kyodo.

Torigoe told reporters that he failed “because of a lack of ability,” despite support from the four major opposition parties.

Still, he emphasized that the opposition parties should nevertheless join forces in the next Lower House election.

“Cooperation of the four opposition parties is needed from now on, too,” Torigoe stressed.

The three top contenders promised to alleviate the chronic shortage of day care and nursing facilities, and beef up disaster preparedness in the quake-prone capital.

They also said they would study how to rein in the ballooning costs of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if elected.

Among her competitors, Torigoe, 76, was the only one to explicitly stand opposed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, president of the LDP. The former journalist also pledged to work toward halting or decommissioning all nuclear reactors within 250 km of Tokyo.

Masuda promised to bolster steps against cyberattacks and terrorism ahead of the Tokyo Games in 2020.

As part of her platform, Koike said she would strive to return Tokyo to its position as Asia’s leading international financial capital by making full use of the city’s “special economic zone” strategy.

The former Diet member, who has served in both chambers since 1992 and held Cabinet portfolios ranging from the environment to Okinawa affairs and, briefly, defense, angered the LDP’s Tokyo chapter in June by defying custom and announcing her candidacy before receiving the party’s blessing, prompting the ruling bloc to endorse her lesser-known foe, former Iwate Gov. Masuda.

The opposition meanwhile decided to support Torigoe just days before the filing deadline, after several names had emerged.

Koike tactically stressed that she was “fighting alone” without any backing.

She even referred to herself as the 15th century French war heroine Joan of Arc, vowing to march on even if it meant being burned to death.

The approach apparently worked in her favor.

Koike entered politics after working as a TV Tokyo news anchor. Thanks to her TV exposure, she won the first Upper House seat in 1992 for the now-defunct Japan New Party (Nihon Shinto).

She switched to the Lower House the following year, and retained her seat for eight consecutive terms. Fluent in Arabic, Koike also worked as a translator before appearing on TV.

As an LDP lawmaker, she served as environment minister from 2003 to 2006 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and initiated the Cool Biz campaign, encouraging office workers to dress casually during the summer to reduce electricity use.

She was also state minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs.

To stress her environment-friendly image, Koike donned a green headband and asked her supporters to wear something green as well.

Sunday’s race was the fourth since 2011, after the three previous governors stepped down before their four-year terms ended.

Shintaro Ishihara quit in October 2012 to run for the Diet, while Naoki Inose resigned in December 2013 with just a year in office under his belt after facing intense criticism for accepting ¥50 million from scandal-tainted hospital chain Tokushukai.

In June, Yoichi Masuzoe stepped down over widespread questions about his spending of political funds, including his alleged purchase of expensive artworks with taxpayer cash.A record 21 candidates vied to become the new face of the metropolis, including former freelance journalist Takashi Uesugi, entrepreneur Mac Akasaka and former Kasai Mayor Chozo Nakagawa.