Tokyo governor race begins with 56 candidates running

Tokyo, 20 June, /AJMEDIA/

Official campaigning for the Tokyo gubernatorial election began on Thursday, with incumbent Yuriko Koike, who is seeking to secure her third four-year term with the effective backing of the ruling bloc, challenged by the main opposition-backed politician Renho.

The focus of the July 7 race, viewed as a proxy war between the national ruling and opposition parties, will be on whether Tokyo’s around 11 million voters want a change in the metropolitan government from that under Koike, who became the first female leader of Japan’s capital in 2016.

Tokyo’s gubernatorial race always draws significant attention as voters can directly elect the city’s governor from a diverse range of candidates. Koike and Renho, both TV anchors-turned-politicians, have experience heading political parties.

A record 56 people threw their hats into the ring, with notable candidates including former Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami, 75, and Shinji Ishimaru, 41, the former mayor of Akitakata in Hiroshima Prefecture. The oldest candidate is Dr NakaMats at 95.

Koike, whose campaign slogan is “protect the capital,” told supporters at her election office near the metropolitan government building in Shinjuku Ward, “I will safeguard the lives and livelihoods of Tokyo residents and develop the economy.”

Renho, meanwhile, said in a stump speech in front of JR Nakano Station near Shinjuku, “I will work on real administrative and financial reforms. I want to become the leader and take the lead in transforming Tokyo.”

Koike, a 71-year-old conservative politician who was Japan’s first female defense minister, scored an overwhelming victory in the gubernatorial race in 2020. So far, all incumbents in past Tokyo gubernatorial elections who sought reelection have gone on to win.

Renho has given up her role as a House of Councillors member to run in the gubernatorial race. The 56-year-old left-leaning politician was in her fourth term in the upper house and was first elected in 2004 to represent her former constituency in Tokyo.

The Liberal Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, did not field a candidate due to being embroiled in a political funds scandal. The LDP has decided to support Koike, who left the party eight years ago, in the gubernatorial race.

The LDP is hoping a possible win by Koike could snap its losing streak in recent national and local elections, as the slush funds scandal has caused the approval ratings for Kishida’s Cabinet to reach their lowest levels since its launch in October 2021.

Koike initially lambasted the LDP for its old-fashioned political style, but its junior coalition partners the Komeito party and the Tomin First no Kai party, which she established after assuming her current post, also plan to back the incumbent in this year’s race.

Renho, who has criticized Koike for her links with the LDP, has left the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in pursuit of garnering wider support from voters. The CDPJ is backing her, along with the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

With the next general election set to be called by October next year, the CDPJ is seeking to boost its support base after taking three seats in the House of Representatives by-elections from the LDP in April and winning in several local polls.

On the policy front, Koike has touted support measures for raising children, such as cash handout programs, as one of her major achievements during her eight years in office. Critics, however, have said she has failed to fulfill most of her pledges from previous elections.

In the latest race, Koike has promised to concentrate primarily on assisting families and child-rearing, while Renho says she will focus on enhancing policies to support younger generations who would like to have children.

Renho has also claimed that a core issue will be how to handle the controversial redevelopment of the Meiji Jingu Gaien district, which would see two historic sports venues demolished and hundreds of trees torn down. Koike has greenlighted the project.

The capital’s election board will accept candidacy applications until 5 p.m. Thursday. The total number of candidates is expected to top 50.


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