Tokyo Governor Koike Wins Third Term, in Relief for PM Kishida

(Bloomberg) -- Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike secured a victory to lead the Japanese capital for a third term, providing some relief for struggling Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his ruling party that supported her.

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Koike beat a record 55 challengers with 42.8% of the vote, including Renho Saito who was backed by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party. Renho, who generally goes by her given name, came in third with 18.8%, while Shinji Ishimaru, a former mayor in Hiroshima who gained attention with a strong social media campaign and a slew of public appearances, took second with 24.3%, results posted by national broadcaster NHK showed.

“I have received calls from the people of Tokyo to implement more reforms and to support their lives more firmly,” Koike said after local media projected her win on Sunday evening. She said Tokyo’s challenges include the pain of inflation on the back of the yen’s slide and the need to further improve childcare support.

The governorship of Tokyo is one of the highest profile jobs in Japanese politics. The governor oversees a metropolis whose economy equaled that of the Netherlands in size in 2021, and whose 14 million-strong population makes it bigger than Belgium.

Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party had unofficially supported Koike by not fielding its own candidate for the position. Kishida is battling a support rate at its lowest levels since he took office in 2021, and rivals are signaling they intend to challenge him in the party’s leadership race in September.

The LDP took a hit by winning only two of nine seats in special elections for Tokyo’s municipal assembly, official results showed.

“Who wins the Tokyo governor’s race, and how many seats go to which party in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, by how much in terms of margins all matter as the LDP deals with the fundraising scandal and low ratings,” Naoko Aoki, a political scientist with the Rand Corp. in Washington, said before the election.

One upside for the LDP, which has governed Japan almost without interruption since its formation in the mid 1950s, was the third place result for Renho. She campaigned with several top opposition lawmakers and her showing indicates that while Tokyo voters may not be enamored with the LDP, they do not appear to be flocking to the main opposition parties to seek new leadership.

In the post-election speech on Sunday evening, Koike pledged to do more to boost Tokyo’s fertility rate. The rate, which is the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime, fell below 1 for the first time last year in the capital. It was a key issue in the election, overshadowing Koike’s ambitions to restore the city’s status as a global financial hub.

Koike, a former LDP lawmaker, gave up a seat in parliament to launch her first successful run for governor in 2016. She used the position as a launchpad for a new party that at one point seemed poised to challenge the LDP of then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

She sailed to a second term in office in 2020, guiding the capital through the pandemic and during the Summer Olympics hosted by Tokyo. While the prominence of her party has waned, Koike has found ways to work with the conservative LDP.

Takeshi Niinami, president of Japanese drinks group Suntory Holdings Ltd., urged Koike to focus on the goal to boost Tokyo as a center of world finance and promote local startups.

“I hope that Governor Koike will further accelerate efforts to strengthen Tokyo’s competitiveness,” Niinami said.

--With assistance from Yuki Hagiwara and Takashi Hirokawa.

(Updates with final results.)

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