Tokyo votes in test for embattled Abe

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

TOKYO — Tokyo res­i­dents went to the polls on Sun­day in a big test for Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, whose rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party is fac­ing a pow­er­ful chal­lenge from the city’s pop­u­lar gover­nor for con­trol of the local assem­bly.

For­mer TV an­chor­woman Yuriko Koike, who was elected gover­nor in a land­slide last year, is hop­ing to seize con­trol of the 127-seat Tokyo assem­bly which cur­rently has an LDP ma­jor­ity.

Koike, who has also served as de­fense and en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, has ap­proval rat­ings top­ping 60 per­cent and is al­ready been spo­ken of by an­a­lysts as a po­ten­tial fu­ture prime min­is­ter, as Abe bat­tles a crony­ism scan­dal.

The en­er­getic 64-year-old quit the LDP last month to lead the newly-formed Tomin First no Kai (Tokyo Res­i­dents First), and is hop­ing to take charge of the cham­ber af­ter forg­ing an al­liance with the Komeito party, a Bud­dhist-backed mod­er­ate group that has long sided with Abe in na­tional pol­i­tics.

Koike has pledged to rein in spend­ing on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and has up­turned con­ven­tion by al­low­ing tele­vi­sion cam­eras into what were tra­di­tion­ally closed-door city govern­ment meet­ing.

Many Tokyo res­i­dents have ap­plauded her ap­proach to shak­ing up the con­ser­va­tive local po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment.

“From what I see, the Tokyo assem­bly (dom­i­nated by the LDP) is se­ri­ously old­fash­ioned and needs to change,” said voter Yoshikazu Niwa, 67, who voiced his sup­port for Koike.

A to­tal of 259 can­di­dates are run­ning for seats in the male-dom­i­nated cham­ber that ad­min­is­ters a city of nearly 14 mil­lion peo­ple.

Around 1.36 mil­lion Tokyo vot­ers cast bal­lots be­fore on Sun­day, sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the 897,410 vot­ers who voted early in the last poll four years ago, ac­cord­ing to the local elec­tion com­mis­sion.

While the vote is local, it is an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor of na­tional po­lit­i­cal sen­ti­ment and comes as Abe, who was elected prime min­is­ter in late 2012, suf­fers a se­ries of set­backs.

are run­ning for seats in the cham­ber that ad­min­is­ters Tokyo.

Most re­cently, De­fense Min­is­ter To­momi Inada was grilled over her ques­tion­able re­mark at an elec­tion rally for a local LDP can­di­date when she asked for sup­port from her min­istry and the Self-De­fense Force, which was seen as vi­o­lat­ing laws stip­u­lat­ing neu­tral­ity of civil ser­vants and the mil­i­tary.

Abe, 62, is also un­der fire over al­le­ga­tions he showed fa­voritism to a friend in a business deal.

The claims come a few months af­ter the con­ser­va­tive pre­mier was forced to deny he had con­nec­tions to the con­tro­ver­sial di­rec­tor of a school which had pur­chased govern­ment land at a huge dis­count — and counted Abe’s wife as its hon­orary prin­ci­pal.

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