Former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike scored a landslide victory in the July 31 Tokyo gubernatorial election. She will be the first woman to take the helm of the administration of Tokyo, which has a population of some 13.5 million.
Koike, 64, won the election even though she did not receive the backing of any political party apparently because of her strong name recognition, her experience in national politics and voters' expectations that she will bring about changes to the metropolitan government. She should build a sound relationship with the metropolitan assembly and tackle various challenges that Japan's capital faces.
It was effectively a three-way race between Koike, former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Hiroya Masuda backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito, and journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, supported by four opposition parties including the Democratic Party (DP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), although a record 21 people ran in the election.
Koike was elected despite a lack of organized support not only because LDP supporters were split between those who voted for her and those who cast their ballots for Masuda but apparently because she won wide support even from those who do not back any political party. The results once again show that support from political parties is not necessarily a decisive factor in Tokyo gubernatorial elections.
Koike gained momentum in the race apparently because many Tokyoites expect that she will break the deadlock in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which has been in chaos over the issue of politics and money. Koike, a member of the LDP, announced her candidacy early without receiving approval from the party when most of the other parties had been taking a wait-and-see attitude as the election was suddenly called. Thus Koike demonstrated her enthusiasm to local voters.
During her campaigning, Koike pledged to ensure transparency of the Tokyo metropolitan administration over the financial burden of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and other issues. Moreover, she showed her confrontational attitude toward the metropolitan assembly by declaring that she would dissolve the local legislature, in which the LDP and Komeito form a governing bloc, at an early date if she was elected. The LDP's Tokyo chapter pressured its members to support Masuda in the election by threatening to expel its legislators, local assembly members and even their families if they backed Koike. However, this tactic only stirred criticism from voters and worked to Koike's advantage.
One cannot help but wonder how the governor-elect will achieve unprecedented reform of the metropolitan government. If Koike were to regard the metropolitan assembly as an enemy and dramatize her confrontation with the assembly, she would not be successful in reforming the metropolitan government. She should be prepared to have constructive debate with the assembly over policy issues.
Tokyo faces many serious challenges, such as establishment of medical and nursing care systems that can respond to the rapidly aging population, resolution of the day care waiting list issue and measures to protect the capital from serious natural disasters. These are all urgent tasks.
Koike's campaign pledges did not clearly show specifically how she aims to change the metropolitan administration. She needs to have courage to express clear opinions to the national government if need be and carefully meet the needs of Tokyo residents over their livelihoods.
All political parties should take the election outcome seriously. The LDP, which confronted Koike not by proposing specific policy measures but by pressuring party members not to back her, has failed as a governing party to reflect on its support for the previous metropolitan administration of Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe, who stepped down over a political funds scandal.
The DP and JCP failed to take advantage of a split within conservative forces between those backing Koike and those for Masuda. These parties joined hands with two other opposition parties in backing a single candidate, just as they did in the July 10 House of Councillors election. However, the Torigoe camp was not sufficiently prepared to fight in the election as was shown by the fact that his campaign failed to show specific policy measures that he seeks.
DP leader Katsuya Okada declared the day before the gubernatorial election that he would not run in the next party presidential election. He deserves criticism that he attempted to evade being blamed for the election setback. The DP as a whole should discuss how it should form a united front with other opposition parties and seriously scrutinize the election outcome.