The new party of the Japanese capital's populist Governor Yuriko Koike looks set for a major victory. They ran as a group of reformists trying to upend what they saw as an old boys' network in a city mired in scandals.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) looked set for defeat in Tokyo's assembly election Sunday. It could bode ill for Abe's political agenda and for his party in the next round of parliamentary elections.
Koike's Tokyoites First party and the Komei party, its new ally and the LDP's longtime coalition partner in parliament, together secured 72 of the assembly's 127 seats, according to projected results. All of Komei's 23 candidates won.
The LDP went into the election with 57 seats but could be left with anywhere between 13 and 39 seats, despite fielding 60 candidates. Its record low number of seats is 38, according to national broadcaster NHK.
Official results are due Monday morning but there appeared to be no dispute that Koike's party had won the lion's share of the assembly seats.
"We are certain to become the leading party," Koike said. "I believe our policies from the perspective of the Tokyo residents won a mandate from voters."
"I believe a variety of problems in national politics have affected the Tokyo assembly election," Hakubun Shimomura, the head of the LDP Tokyo chapter, told Tokyo MX News.
Newscaster turned governor
Tokyo assembly elections have in the past been a precursor for a national trend. Koike, a former member of parliament, is said to be considering a run for prime minister.
Koike, a former TV newscaster, became Tokyo's first female leader last summer. She has earned a reputation as a reformist for repeatedly clashing with the male-dominated city government. She joined Abe's LDP party in 2002 and held key party and Cabinet posts, including defense minister in the years that followed.
She upset party leaders when she suddenly ran in city elections last year and won to become Tokyo's first female governor in August. She never officially left the LDP party until last month to lead her own Tokyoites First party.
An old boys' club
Koike portrayed the LDP-led Tokyo assembly as a place of dubious politics led by an old boys' club opposed to her reform agenda. Her party's plans include cutting the costs of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Prime Minister Abe had also enjoyed strong approval ratings since taking office in 2012, but he and his party have recently been hit by a series of scandals. Shigeru Ishiba, a senior LDP lawmaker seen as a possible successor to Abe, called the results a "historic defeat" for the party.
"The results underscored that not many Tokyo residents thought the LDP was modest and sincere," Ishiba said on Sunday.
Abe is alleged to have pressured bureaucrats to fund a university program run by a close friend. He has repeatedly denied the allegations but has refused to provide further details before parliament.
Throughout the campaign for the Tokyo assembly, Abe stayed in the background, reportedly out of concern that his presence would hurt his party's chances.
On Saturday, when he made his first appearance during a street rally, he faced a big crowd that yelled "Step down Abe!"
bik/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)