TOKYO — Tokyo has elected its first female governor, choosing Yuriko Koike, an English-speaking former defense minister who once compared herself to Hillary Clinton, to lead the Japanese capital into the next Olympic Games.
The result is something of an affront to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose ruling Liberal Democratic Party backed another candidate, but it installs some stability in Tokyo after a string of scandals and missteps.
Koike, a 64-year-old right-wing politician who had served as defense and environment minister in LDP governments and was most recently a member of parliament, is well-known in Washington and in Tokyo and will be greeted in both capitals as a known quantity.
“I would like to move forward with a metropolitan administration such as has never happened, never been seen, together with all of you,” Koike said Sunday as her victory became clear.
She succeeds Yoichi Masuzoe, the mercurial former governor who had to stand down after an expenses fiasco, one of a series of problems that have plagued Tokyo’s preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The lead-up to the Games had been marred by charges of plagiarism concerning the logo, allegations of corruption and the cancellation of a stadium designed by the late Zaha Hadid.
Masuzoe’s predecessor had also had to quit over money-related misdeeds.
The LDP wanted to make sure Tokyo elected a governor who could see it through the Olympics, analysts said.
With that in mind, the ruling party officially backed Hiroya Masuda, a former minister of internal affairs and governor of the rural Iwate prefecture, out of the 21 candidates vying for the governor’s position.
But Koike, an LDP stalwart, defied the party by running anyway, adopting green as her campaign color to try to present herself as a fresh start for the city of almost 14 million people.
Although turnout was low at about 27 percent, voters overwhelmingly backed Koike, a onetime television news anchor who speaks English as well as Arabic, which she learned as a student in Egypt.
Koike turned her journalistic fame into political clout more than a decade ago, when she became one of the female “assassins” campaigning for then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, and against former members of his party whom he wanted to dump. Voicing admiration for both Hillary Clinton and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Koike then ran — unsuccessfully — for leader of the LDP in 2008.
In addition to pledging to oversee the Olympics, which Tokyo is viewing as a way to kick-start its moribund economy, Koike pledged to deal with the shortage of day-care facilities for children and nursing care for the elderly. Japan, and especially Tokyo, is facing a demographic time bomb that will see its working population shrink sharply over the next few decades, and freeing up women to work more is a key part of the government’s strategy to counteract this squeeze.
But Koike’s most pressing challenge will be reining in costs for the Olympics, which have been forecast to run two or three times the initial $7 billion budget.
Koike will have to get to work quickly. She’s due in Rio de Janeiro for the opening of this year’s summer games , which open Friday. She is set to serve a four-year term running up to the 2020 games.