Olympics embarrassment looms for Tokyo as governor faces calls to quit over funds scandal

Tokyo's embattled governor Yoichi Masuzoe holds a regular press conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, on June 10, 2016.
Tokyo's embattled governor Yoichi Masuzoe holds a regular press conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, on June 10, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, under fire for using tax money to pay for family vacations and artwork, faces growing demands to quit over a scandal that may affect national elections and embarrass Tokyo as host of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Mr Masuzoe's predecessor had to quit over a funding scandal soon after Tokyo won the Olympics hosting rights and now lawmakers in the Tokyo assembly are calling for Mr Masuzoe's head after repeated inability to justify his use of public funds, which included buying comic books for his children.

Mr Masuzoe, 67, who won election in 2014 with support from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition, will face more pressure to quit from a no-confidence motion likely to be submitted by opposition politicians on Tuesday (June 14).

But the timing is delicate, balancing coalition fears that Mr Masuzoe could hurt them in a July 10 Upper House election against the embarrassment of having a stand-in governor accept the Olympic flag at the Rio Olympics - a symbolic handover that passes the Olympics to the next host.

Mr Masuzoe himself has begged for more time, pledging to return his salary but asking to postpone a no-confidence vote until after the Olympics end on Aug 22, since losing the vote could mean a gubernatorial election during the Olympics.

"I don't intend to cling to the governor's seat," he told the Tokyo assembly after hours of intense questioning on Monday. "But I think the confusion of having an election at the same time as the Rio Olympics would not be to the benefit of the next Olympic host city."

Lawmakers from Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have not yet backed the no-confidence vote, but their junior coalition partner, the Komeito, may submit its own.

LDP officials have acknowledged that the scandal, which has flooded the Tokyo government with complaints from voters, could make things tough for the party.

Asked whether the coalition's backing of Mr Masuzoe in 2014 would have an impact on the upper house election, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: "Based on that, I believe certain judgments will be made."

Tokyo 2020 Olympics planning officials said Mr Masuzoe's woes were having no impact on preparations for the games, but planning has been hit by troubles including scrapping plans for the main stadium and plagiarism allegations forcing them to abandon their original games logo.

Tokyo's bid has also come under scrutiny after questions were raised about payments by the bid committee.