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Tokyo elects first female governor


Former defence minister Yuriko Koike will oversee the Japanese capital’s troubled preparations for the 2020 Olympics.

Tokyo, August 1, 2016: Tokyo has elected its first female governor to take charge of the city amid troubled 2020 Olympic Games preparations after a foul-mouthed campaign of misogyny and mudslinging.

Yuriko Koike claimed victory after exit polls and early vote counts pointed to a strong lead for the former defence and environment minister.

“I will lead Tokyo politics in an unprecedented manner, a Tokyo you have never seen,” she said in a voice slightly hoarse after two weeks of campaigning.

The election, which was contested by a record field of 21 candidates in a city home to 13.6 million people, was called after the previous governor, Yoichi Masuzoe, resigned over a financial scandal involving the use of public funds to pay for lavish hotels and spa trips.

Koike largely played down her achievement of becoming the first woman to govern the Japanese capital – and only the seventh woman ever to serve as a prefectural governor – but she is no stranger to male-dominated environments, having served in the lower house of parliament where less than 10% of MPs are women.

Last week Shintaro Ishihara, 83, another former Tokyo governor not renowned for his tact, called her “a caked-up old woman well past her prime”.

“He has embarrassed us again in public,” said Yoshiko Matsuya, a self-employed clothing worker who voted for Koike. “I think he is probably senile.”

Koike said in her victory speech she would pursue policies that would mean that “both women and men can shine in Tokyo”.

The leftwing candidate Shuntaro Torigoe was hit by a sex scandal and trailed in third behind the establishment candidate Hiroya Masuda.

Koike played her cards well in the election by exploiting the sympathy vote, but she touted hardline exclusionist policies, said Masaru Kaneko, a professor at Keio University’s school of economics.

“She opposes participation in regional elections by non-Japanese people, is against the system of Korean schools that operates in Japan and does not want to see foreign immigration into Japan,” he said.

Koike graduated from Cairo University in 1976 in sociology and speaks fluent English and Arabic. She worked as a translator before going into journalism and then politics.

A key task will be leading the city’s troubled preparations for the 2020 Olympics, which have been hit by a series of embarrassing scandals and soaring costs.

“I would like to review the basis for the budget, so that I can clarify for the eyes of Tokyo residents how much they would have to pay,” she said in her victory speech.

The 2020 Olympics is set to showcase Japan in the 21st century and Koike will want to be centre stage for the main event.

The budget, however, has ballooned to 1.8tn yen (£13bn), six times the original figure, and in a country that is still to shake off more than 25 years of deflation she will be expected to tighten control.

Given Koike’s background, some observers want her to promote a more environmentally friendly Games.

“The big deal, the really big deal is infrastructure development, and 2020 coincides with timetables for low carbon targets,” said Andrew De Wit, a professor at Rikkyo University’s school of policy studies. “The Olympics provide Tokyo with the chance to grab the mantle of leadership on emissions.”

Following her major achievement in securing the governorship of Tokyo, Matsuya believes Koike has a greater ambition. “This is not her final goal. Her real goal is to become PM,” she said. “She is still a work in progress.”

By Martin Foster