Tokyo elects 1st female governor amid troubled preparations for 2020 Olympics

Updated: 2016-08-01 09:16


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Tokyo elects 1st female governor amid troubled preparations for 2020 Olympics

Yuriko Koike celebrates her win in the Tokyo Governor election in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 31, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

TOKYO - Voters in the Japanese capital elected their first female governor on Sunday after her two predecessors stepped down amid scandals while the city is gearing up for preparations of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Yuriko Koike, 64, was a House of Representatives lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) before winning Sunday's Tokyo gubernatorial election by a large margin.

A graduate of the University of Cairo, Koike worked as an Arabic interpreter and a news broadcaster before entering politics. She was first elected to the House of Councillors on the ticket of the Japan New Party in 1992, and changed to the House of Representatives in 1993.

Koike switched between a number of political parties before joining the LDP in 2002. She became Japan's first female defense minister in 2007, and was once seen as having a chance to be Japan's first female prime minister when she ran for the post of LDP president in 2008.

"Hillary used the phrase 'glass ceiling.' It's often a sheet of steel in Japan," Koike reportedly told a TV talk show, comparing herself to US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, stressing that one of her political goals was to advance women's role in Japanese society.

Koike ran Sunday's race as an independent after failing to win endorsement of the ruling coalition, which split the ruling LDP as the party threw its weight behind former internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda while many party members chose to support Koike.

The LDP would possibly penalize Koike for entering the gubernatorial race without consulting the party first, and it's also possible that Koike would choose to quit the party, said Kyodo News quoting government sources.

How to deal with her relationship with the ruling LDP would pose as a challenge for the new governor, observers have said.

Meanwhile, another major challenge facing the new governor will be preparing for the 2020 Olympic Games, as Japan, struggling to beat deflation, hopes to boost its economy with the games.

Preparations for the 2020 Olympics have been plagued by a series of problems and embarrassments, the most recent of which was former Tokyo governor Yoichi

Masuzoe's resignation in June amid a scandal over inappropriate use of public funds.

Masuzoe's predecessor Naoki Inose, who was governor when the city won the bid in 2013 to host the Olympic Games, was also forced to quit over a money scandal, clouding the preparations for the 2020 Olympics.

Moreover, Tokyo's Olympic preparations have also been drawn into a bribery scandal in May, after the city's bid team was allegedly paying more than 2 million US dollars to an account linked to a disgraced former International Olymipic Committee (IOC) member, leading up to the city's win over Madrid and Istanbul for hosting the 2020 Games. Investigations are underway.

Construction of the main Olympic stadium also lagged behind, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to scrap the original blueprint for the stadium last year due to overhigh costs. The Tokyo Olympics logo were also redesigned after the initial design was accused of plagiarism.

"The Olympics are right in front of us. I want to use them as a chance to build a new Tokyo for beyond 2020," Koike said during her campaign.

One of the first tasks facing Koike as the new governor would be heading for Rio de Janeiro to accept the Olympic flag at the closing ceremony as the next host of the games.

But Koike, along with other candidates in the gubernatorial race, also said the cost of hosting the event has to be at an appropriate level and acceptable to local residents, which would lead to a possible clash with those of the organizing committee who hope the capital to cover more as building material cost and counter-terrorism spending soar.

Other major problems challenging the new governor include the capital's aging population, the possibility of a major earthquake hitting the megacity, as well as the public's lack of trust regarding the government after the disgraceful resignation of two governors.