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Voting under way for Tokyo governorship, virus, Olympics in focus

Combined photo taken on June 18, 2020, shows five candidates for the July 5 Tokyo gubernatorial election making a speech as campaigning officially kicks off the same day. They are (from R) are actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto, head of the anti-establishment political party Reiwa Shinsengumi, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, Kenji Utsunomiya, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Taisuke Ono, former vice governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, and Takashi Tachibana, who heads a single-issue party that vows to "crush" Japan's public broadcaster commonly known as NHK. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Voting got under way Sunday for the Tokyo gubernatorial election, with polls suggesting Gov. Yuriko Koike will win a second four-year term.

    Polls show voters are primarily focusing on the record 22 candidates' approaches to the novel coronavirus pandemic -- especially with the number of new infections in the capital topping 100 for a fourth straight day on Sunday -- and the postponement to next year of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

    With the 21 challengers failing to build a united front against the incumbent, Koike has boosted her standing with the public by being aggressive in the fight against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

    Besides Koike, 67, a former defense minister and environment minister, the other major contenders are Kenji Utsunomiya, 73, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Taro Yamamoto, 45, a former actor and leader of the anti-establishment party Reiwa Shinsengumi, and Taisuke Ono, 46, a former vice governor of Kumamoto Prefecture.

    As of 3 p.m., voting turnout was 23.99 percent, down 3.73 percentage points from the same time in the last election in July 2016.

    During campaigning, the candidates have focused on coronavirus countermeasures, supporting businesses and households struggling due to the pandemic, and the cost to taxpayers of the postponed Olympics and Paralympics.

    While the candidates pledged to boost the capital's ability to deal with a second wave of coronavirus infections, they were sharply divided over the postponed Tokyo Games amid uncertainty over the outlook for the pandemic.

    Koike -- who is running as an independent but with considerable support among those aligned with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito as well as unaffiliated voters, according to polls -- has vowed that Tokyo will host the games next summer in a simplified and safe form at a reduced cost.

    She has promised to ensure Tokyo's economic strength along with effective coronavirus measures, including the establishment of a disease control center in the metropolitan area.

    Utsunomiya, backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and two other opposition parties, has suggested he would encourage the International Olympic Committee to cancel the games if experts believe it would be difficult to hold them.

    Yamamoto has promised an immediate cancellation, partly due to the lack of a coronavirus vaccine. Ono, backed by the opposition Japan Innovation Party, has proposed negotiating with the IOC for the Tokyo Games to be held in 2024.

    Polls show Koike is the clear favorite among those intending to vote, but up to 30 percent of Tokyo's 11.47 million eligible voters have yet to decide on a candidate.

    The 17-day campaign period was unusual amid the pandemic, with more polling stations than in the past for early voting to prevent the spread of the virus.

    Most campaign teams took precautions, wearing masks at street rallies, although attempts were made to keep them small and livestream them. Koike, unlike the other candidates, chose to campaign solely online.

    As of Sunday, the number of infections in Tokyo totaled more than 6,700, about a third of some 20,000 cases in Japan.

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