Former Japanese minister of defense Yuriko Koike was elected governor of Tokyo yesterday, media exit polls projected, which would make her the first woman to lead Japan’s capital.
Public broadcaster NHK, Jiji Press and other media forecast Koike as the winner immediately after polls closed at 8pm.
“I will lead Tokyo politics in an unprecedented manner, a Tokyo you have never seen,” Koike, 64, told cheering supporters in a hoarse voice after two weeks of campaigning.
The election, contested by a record field of 21 candidates, was called after previous governor Yoichi Masuzoe resigned over a financial scandal.
The Japanese capital’s troubled preparations for the summer Olympics, especially the soaring costs, will be the major challenge facing the winner.
Euphoria in 2013 at securing the right to host sport’s marquee event has since given way to frustration over numerous gaffes and scandals.
A record 21 candidates vied to lead the metropolis with a total population of 13.6 million and an economy the size of Indonesia’s.
However, local media surveys suggest it was a three-way race between Koike, former Iwate Prefecture governor Hiroya Masuda and veteran TV journalist Shuntaro Torigoe.
The election was called after Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe abruptly resigned, felled by a scandal over his lavish spending of public money. He served just over half his term.
His predecessor Naoki Inose — who had led the successful bid to win the Olypmpics — bowed out later in 2013 after becoming embroiled in a personal financial scandal, serving just one year.
Koike, a former TV anchorwoman, speaks fluent English and Arabic — the latter acquired as a student in Cairo — and has also served as the Japanese minister of the environment.
She has compared herself to Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and was once seen as having the best chance to be Japan’s first female prime minister, but was defeated when running in 2008 for leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Masuda, also 64 and backed by Abe’s LDP-led ruling coalition — which spurned Koike for not seeking its approval before announcing her candidacy — is a veteran administrator who won plaudits as governor of Iwate for 12 years until 2007.
Torigoe, 76, is a liberal journalist widely known in Japan for his ubiquitous TV appearances and also as a cancer survivor.
The winner’s four-year term will extend until just after the Games start and the governor’s performance in the run-up will be closely watched.
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