OP-ED: Tough Road Ahead for Tokyo's First Female Governor

OP-ED: Tough Road Ahead for Tokyo's First Female Governor
小池百合子|Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

The first woman elected to serve as governor of Tokyo now faces her toughest task — putting her words into action.

The victory of Yuriko Koike in the Tokyo gubernatorial election on Sunday represents the success of the former Liberal Democratic Party Diet member’s campaign strategy of casting herself as a lone wolf fighting the LDP organization that refused to endorse her in the race. Now she faces the more difficult task of working with the metropolitan assembly — including the LDP-Komeito majority alliance that backed her rival candidate, who ended a distant runner-up — to carry out her promised reforms in the administration of the nation’s capital.

In the race to fill the vacancy of Yoichi Masuzoe, who resigned in June after coming under fire for the misappropriation of millions of yen in political funds, LDP votes were split for the first time in the Tokyo gubernatorial election since 1990. Koike, the party’s locally elected Lower House member, was the first to announce her candidacy. She did so without obtaining the support of the LDP’s Tokyo chapter, which instead fielded Hiroya Masuda, a former Iwate governor and internal affairs and communications minister.

The outcome was a resounding win for Koike, who won 2.91 million votes against Masuda’s 1.79 million. Veteran journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, jointly fielded by four opposition parties, which hoped to replicate the partial success of their campaign cooperation in the Upper House election last month by taking advantage of the split in conservative votes between Koike and Masuda, ended in third place with just 1.34 million votes.

As in many past Tokyo gubernatorial races, voters did not appear to have cast their ballots along partisan lines. The LDP’s Tokyo chapter tried to tighten its grip on its campaign machine by warning its members — and their relatives — to not support Koike or face expulsion. That tactic seems to have backfired by playing into Koike’s strategy of portraying herself as a lone candidate battling the party’s big organization.

A Kyodo News exit poll shows that Koike, who gained 51% of unaffiliated swing votes, also won votes from 52% of LDP supporters — against 40% who voted for Masuda — and even gained the support of 39 percent of the supporters of Democratic Party, which along with the Japanese Communist Party and two other smaller opposition forces backed Torigoe.

The opposition votes were also split, as Torigoe won only 49% of the ballots cast by Democratic Party supporters. Among people who voted in the last 2014 race for Kenji Utsunomiya, the runner-up in the past two Tokyo gubernatorial elections who backed out of Sunday’s race to pave the way for a joint opposition endorsement of Torigoe, 49% cast their votes for Torigoe but 29% supported Koike, according to the exit poll.

In the election held after two successive governors resigned in disgrace over money-related scandals, Koike’s campaign portraying herself as a reformer who would confront the dominant LDP-Komeito forces in the metropolitan assembly apparently struck a chord with voters. She criticized the LDP’s Tokyo chapter for making key decisions behind closed doors in discussions that involved just a few key members and went on to promise that, if elected, one of her first acts as governor would be to dissolve the assembly.

Now the first woman elected to serve as governor of Tokyo faces her toughest task — putting her words into action. And in the power structure of the nation’s local administration, a large part of that effort will require working with an assembly comprising political forces that mostly campaigned against her in the gubernatorial race. There are two ways a governor can dissolve a prefectural assembly — either in response to a no-confidence vote by the assembly, or by urging local residents to petition for a recall of the assembly in a referendum. Either way, Koike will face hurdles in the implementation of her campaign promise, meaning that she will likely have to deal with an assembly which is led by the very forces that she targeted with her criticism during the campaign.

The relatively high voter turnout in Sunday’s election — at 59.73%, or 13.59 points higher than in the 2014 race — should be taken as a message from voters that they want progress on the various policy agenda confronting the metropolis, including the economy, improved medical and nursing care services, and better education and child-rearing support — all highlighted in media polls as priorities by the electorate. Koike has promised a major overhaul of the metropolitan administration. Implementing the promised reforms will need support of local residents and the assembly that they elected.

The day after her election win, Koike said she was ready to work with the assembly, which she stated also represents Tokyo voters, to avoid a stalemate in the metropolitan administration as it faces mounting tasks. A confrontation with the assembly resulting in a policy stalemate would be the last thing that the capital’s residents need. Members of the assembly for their part should take the votes won by Koike seriously and consider how they can best serve the people’s interests.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this editorial. The original can be found here.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole