Front-runners in Tokyo’s upcoming gubernatorial election squared off for the first time in a joint news conference Wednesday, during which candidates took every chance they could to confront Gov. Yuriko Koike over her response to the novel coronavirus and the plausibility of hosting the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games amid an ongoing global pandemic.

Nearly every question, answer and comment focused predictably on criticism of the incumbent and her failure to achieve most of the campaign goals she had touted leading up to her election in 2016.

The initial debate may have foreshadowed how the election campaigns will proceed after they commence Thursday.

Five candidates took part in the news conference Wednesday, which was hosted by the Japan National Press Club. They were Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, the incumbent; Kenji Utsunomiya, a lawyer and former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations who is seeking the governorship for the third time; Taisuke Ono, former vice governor of Kumamoto Prefecture; Taro Yamamoto, former actor and leader of the anti-establishment party Reiwa Shinsengumi; and Takashi Tachibana, controversial leader of the Party to Protect the People from NHK.

Prevention of — and preparation for — a second wave of the novel coronavirus is expected to be the central issue of the election. During the conference, candidates put forward numerous proposals for countermeasures, many of which largely overlapped. All five stressed the need the bolster the capital’s health care system by maximizing virus testing capacity, increasing the number of beds in the city’s hospitals and providing better support for nurses, doctors and other front-line workers.

Yamamoto said financial stimulus for small and midsize businesses in Tokyo impacted by the coronavirus pandemic was too little too late, while Utsunomiya said budget reform was needed to make up for Koike’s rash spending or else the capital’s economy would not be able to revive itself.

Tachibana, on the other hand, said it was most likely impossible for Tokyo to prevent a second wave and that vulnerable individuals — namely those over 60 — should be considered a priority when issuing countermeasures in the near future.

If re-elected, Koike said she aims to establish Tokyo’s own center for disease control, or CDC as it is referred to in the United States, to consolidate the city’s response to the virus.

Much of the debate was overtaken by talk of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which were postponed in March until next summer amid the ongoing pandemic.

Koike, who has presided over the capital’s myriad projects to construct venues, advertise and prepare for the 2020 Games, said postponement beyond 2021 would put an undue burden on athletes and cost the capital and the country too much.

Ono and Tachibana, on the other hand, said they felt the Tokyo Games should be postponed to 2022 or 2024, while Utsunomiya and Yamamoto both suggested the 2020 Games should be cancelled altogether.

Postponement of the games is expected to further inflate the costs of the already over-budget event. Cancellation or further postponement, not to mention financial support of local businesses and the losses incurred during the coronavirus pandemic, have put the capital’s economy in a precarious position.

While Koike is being treated as the apparent front-runner in the upcoming election set for July 5, whichever candidate emerges victorious will shoulder the task of overcoming the novel coronavirus and deciding when, how and if the capital should host the Tokyo Games.

“It may take years for Tokyo to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic,” Yamamoto said. “What happens in the next four years could affect the capital for generations to come.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.