Tokyo votes in test for embattled Abe
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.