After Covid and Olympics, Yuriko Koike set for third term as Tokyo governor

By Toby LuckhurstBBC News, London

Getty Images Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, at an election campaign rally in Tokyo, JapanGetty Images

The Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike, wins a third term

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is certain to win a third consecutive term in Sunday’s gubernatorial election, according to exit polls.

The 71-year-old first female governor of Japan’s most populous city, will secure her position for another four years.

Her victory will be a relief for struggling Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who backed the 71-year-old to win a third term.

She was elected in 2016, and won her second term in 2020. The conservative governor successfully guided the city through the coronavirus pandemic and its delayed summer Olympics in 2021.

Japan’s tumbling fertility became a major issue during this campaign, and the victorious candidate will now have to work hard to improve Tokyo’s shockingly low birth rate. At 0.99 – less than one child per woman aged between 15 and 49 – it is the lowest of any region nationwide.

Her appointment makes her one of the most powerful women in Japanese politics – with Tokyo accounting for about 11% of the population and contributing to nearly 20% of the country’s total GDP.

It also puts her in charge of the city’s budget – which climbed to a staggering 16.55 trillion yen ($100bn; £80bn) this fiscal year.

Ms Koike, 71, got more than 40% of the vote according to Reuters.

Unexpectedly, Shinji Ishimaru, 41, a former mayor of a town in Hiroshima prefecture, placed second, a position that was long thought to be guaranteed for Renho Saito.

Ms Renho, 56, supported by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), came in third.

Mr Ishimaru’s success is thought to be due his mobilisation of young voters through a large online following. His campaign also focused on advancing the economy and industry of Tokyo.

Who is Yuriko Koike?

Yuriko Koike started her career as a journalist, working as a television news anchor before moving into politics in the early 1990s.

But it was not until 2016 that she came to true national prominence after winning the governorship of Tokyo for the first time. She was not the official candidate of LDP, but still managed to win comfortably, taking more than 2.9 million votes to become the first woman in the role.

“I will lead Tokyo politics in an unprecedented manner, a Tokyo you have never seen,” Ms Koike promised supporters on election night.

She officially left the LDP in 2017 to set up her own political party, though she retains the support of many in the party – who gave her their backing in the 2024 race.

Getty Images Yuriko Koike campaigning 2017Getty Images

Yuriko Koike became Tokyo’s first ever female governor in 2016

Ms Koike vowed to focus on local issues during her term, including tackling overcrowding on public transport, as well as the culture of overworking in the city. But it was global issues that came to dominate her time in office.

The emergence of Covid-19 forced Tokyo to delay its summer Olympics, planned for 2020. Ms Koike won a second term that year after her successful handling of the pandemic, and garnered further praise for managing the delayed Olympics, held in the city in 2021 in the shadow of the coronavirus.

Ms Koike, however has not escaped scandal. An allegation that she never graduated from Cairo University – first reported during her first term – has never quite died away. Despite repeated denials from her and a statement confirming her graduation from the university itself, reports that she falsified her graduation documents still persisted during her try at a third gubernatorial term.

Opponents also criticised her for failing to follow through on her pledges in Tokyo. The trains remain overcrowded and overwork culture remains a problem, they say.

Of the 56 candidates the voters had to choose from, it had been expected Renho Saito would be Ms Koike’s main opponent.

The former upper house member was backed by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, as well as the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

Ms Renho left the CDP before official campaigning started on June 20. She lost her Upper House seat when she filed her candidacy.

Getty Images Renho waving on the campaign trailGetty Images

Renho stood as an independent against Ms Koike

She rose to lead the centre-left group in 2016 as its first ever female head, but resigned a year later over poor results in Tokyo’s prefectural election.

Japanese media projected the race as a proxy war between national parties, as the conservative incumbent was challenged by the left-leaning opposition politician.

The gubernatorial election also took place amid a climate of general mistrust towards politics. Critics say this is linked in part to the economic difficulties of the Japanese followed by an end of the long historical period of deflation, and the weakening of the yen.

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