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A man looks at campaign posters for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in Tokyo on July 7, 2024. - Polls opened on July 7 to elect a new Tokyo governor with incumbent Yuriko Koike challenged by opposition figure Renho, two prominent women in Japan's male-dominated political sphere. — AFP
A man looks at campaign posters for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in Tokyo on July 7, 2024. - Polls opened on July 7 to elect a new Tokyo governor with incumbent Yuriko Koike challenged by opposition figure Renho, two prominent women in Japan's male-dominated political sphere. — AFP

Women fight Tokyo election in male-dominated Japan

TOKYO:  Polls opened Sunday to elect a new Tokyo governor with incumbent Yuriko Koike challenged by opposition figure Renho, two prominent women in Japan’s male-dominated political sphere.

Japan has never had a woman prime minister and a large majority of lawmakers are men, but Tokyo, accounting for a tenth of the national population and a fifth of the economy, has been run since 2016 by former television anchor Koike, 71.

While few now tout the former defence and environment minister as a possible future prime minister, as many once did, polls suggest that the media-savvy conservative will win a third straight term in the metropolis of 14 million people.

This will be some relief ahead of national elections due by late 2025 to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of deeply unpopular Prime Minister Fumio Kishida which backs Koike, even though she broke away from the LDP in 2017.

Kishida, whose public support rate has been dwindling to around 20 percent, partly due to a political funds scandal revealed late last year, will also face the LDP leadership election later this year.

The Tokyo vote comes after new government data showed the birth rate hit a record low of 1.20 last year, with Tokyo’s figure 0.99 -- the first Japan region to fall below one.

 Pledges of family support

Both Koike and her nearest rival Renho, who goes by one name, have pledged to expand support for parenting, with Koike promising subsidised epidurals.

“After having their first child, I hear people say they don’t want to experience that pain again,” Koike said, according to local media.

“I want people to see childbirth and raising children as a happiness, not a risk,” said the incumbent, who has campaigned with an AI-version of herself.

Renho, meanwhile, pledged to support young people “and expand their life choices.”

“I will implement genuine long-term fertility measures,” said Renho, who is backed by Japan’s main opposition parties.

“I will also realise transparent fiscal reforms, where everyone can check the situation.”

A dark horse in the race could be independent candidate Shinji Ishimaru, 41, a former mayor of Akitakata in western Japan, recent polls also suggested, with some swing voters preferring him over Koike and Renho.

“If you look away, interest-based politics and pork-barrel projects will rear their ugly heads,” he said in a speech Saturday, stressing his financial expertise as a former banker.

A record 56 people are standing in the election, not all of them serious, with one dressing as “The Joker” and calling for polygamy to be legalised. Others are campaigning for more golf, poker or just to advertise their premises in the red-light district.

Local media speculate that the turnout may be up given that early votes cast through July 5 reached 1.65 million, up 20 percent from 1.38 million in 2020.

Overall turnout was 55 percent in the last vote, down from nearly 60 percent when Koike was first elected in 2016.

Ballot boxes will close at 08:00 pm (1100 GMT). — AFP

 

 

 

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