Tipped to be the first female prime minister of Japan, Yuriko Koike has been re-elected for a second term as governor of Tokyo. The former defense minister has been praised for the capital's response to the pandemic.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Sunday was re-elected for a second term to lead the Japanese capital, despite a recent surge of coronavirus infections that has sparked concerns of a second wave.
In her victory speech, Tokyo's first woman governor vowed to make it her priority to take measures to contain the virus and protect the megacity with 14 million people and a $1 trillion economy.
"Now is a very important time to prepare for a possible second wave, and I will continue to firmly take steps," she said. "The next four years is a crucial time for Japan's capital, with the Olympics and Paralympics coming up, and coronavirus measures are needed,'' she added.
Japanese national broadcaster NHK said its exit polls showed that 74% of respondents supported Koike, with 63% saying they approved of her handling of the health crisis.
Olympics 'proof of our victory'
A record 22 candidates ran in Sunday's election with popular actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto and veteran lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya competing alongside Koike.
Utsunomiya pledged better welfare support for a more inclusive and diverse society. Meanwhile, Yamamoto wanted to cancel the Tokyo Olympics altogether and use the funds to assist those affected by the crisis.
Koike, however, had defied calls for a complete cancellation, saying she wanted to secure the event "as proof of our victory against the coronavirus." She has tried to gain public support for a simpler version of the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
Tokyo retiree Hidekazu Tamura said he voted for Koike because of her effort to keep the Olympics. "I say no to anyone who is against the Olympics," he said.
Praised for combatting COVID-19
The 67-year-old conservative has served in key cabinet and ruling party posts. In 2016, Koike, then a lawmaker in the House of Representatives who had served as defense minister during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first term in office, became the first female governor in Tokyo.
During her campaign, Koike vowed to set up Tokyo's own version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unlike fellow conservative Abe, her critics have generally lauded her handling of the pandemic.
As Japan registered 20,000 coronavirus infections and 1,000 deaths in recent weeks, Koike dismissed plans for another state of emergency, saying the economy had already suffered enough by seven weeks of restrictions in April and May.
Instead, she vowed to balance COVID-19 prevention and the economy, while proposing "pinpoint" measures in specific areas.
Koike is also is viewed as a potential candidate to succeed Abe when his term ends in September 2021. In contrast to Koike, Abe's approval ratings have plummeted due to his handling of the pandemic, on top of a series of scandals.
A former TV newscaster and translator who also speaks Arabic and English, Koike earned the nickname "Migratory Bird" for hopping between parties and forming new alliances, a rarity among Japanese politicians who usually remain loyal to their party faction.
mvb/mm (AP, dpa, Reuters)