TOKYO • Campaigning ahead of an election for Tokyo governor kicked off yesterday, with candidates vying to save the city's reputation as host of the 2020 Summer Olympics after the previous two governors quit due to money scandals.
Last month's resignation of Mr Yoichi Masuzoe, the second governor to resign after Tokyo won hosting rights in 2013, came just as the Japanese capital ramped up preparations to host the Games with barely four years left.
His sudden exit spelt trouble for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as the timing meant another gubernatorial election would need to be held just before the Games' kickoff, as gubernatorial terms last four years.
The Tokyo Olympics run from July 24 through Aug 9, 2020, and a new governor would take up the post smack in the middle of the event, reported Japan Times.
The upcoming July 31 election pits Japan's first female defence minister against a competent but colourless ex-bureaucrat backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party and a well-known liberal journalist supported by four opposition parties, along with a slate of lesser-known candidates.
Though the sprawling city of some 13.5 million must deal with an ageing society and preparations for a possible earthquake many say is overdue, a major topic at a news conference on Tuesday was the Olympics, which Japan hopes to use as a driver for its sluggish economy.
One of the first duties of the new governor will be to accept the Olympic flag in Rio de Janeiro.
"Politics and money, a very old problem, arose again, leaving Tokyo leaderless at a time when it faces many issues," said candidate Hiroya Masuda, a former Cabinet minister backed by Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
"The first growth strategy I wish to promote is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We have stumbled at the start and need to speed up our preparations."
Ms Yuriko Koike, a former defence and environment minister also running for governor, said the ballooning financial burden of the Games and the issue of who will bear it must be clarified. "The Olympics are right in front of us. I want to use them as a chance to build a new Tokyo for beyond 2020," she added.
Ms Koike shot to stardom in 2007 when she became the country's first female defence minister, a post she held for slightly more than a month.
Political commentator Atsuo Ito said the poll may also be one of the first indications of how voters feel after Sunday's Upper House election, which gave Mr Abe's coalition and allies the two-thirds majority needed to revise the nation's pacifist Constitution, a controversial move.
"It's not quite like the UK (Brexit) referendum, but I think a lot of people are annoyed with the result - and this is the first chance to measure their feelings," he said.