Election campaigning for the right to lead Tokyo, a bustling mega-metropolis of 14 million people with an economy the size of Indonesia's, kicked off yesterday with a crowded field of candidates looking to topple incumbent Governor Yuriko Koike.
Voters will go to the polls on July 5 with such hot-button issues as the city's coronavirus response and the postponed Olympic Games high on the agenda.
Ms Koike is the front runner, having won public praise for her decisiveness in coronavirus measures that set her apart from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the national government, whose crisis handling has been described as dawdling at best and bungling at worst.
Another 21 candidates have entered the fray, with the following cited as the leading contenders:
• Mr Kenji Utsunomiya, 73, a prominent lawyer and former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. This is his third race after coming in second twice.
• Mr Taisuke Ono, 46, a Tokyo-born former deputy governor of Kumamoto prefecture.
• Mr Taro Yamamoto, 45, an actor turned chief of opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi, which made waves last year when two severely disabled candidates were elected to the Upper House.
Covid-19 was the focus as the candidates made their first pitches, with Tokyo recording another 41 cases yesterday - a sign that the city is not out of the woods even as Japan lifts its restrictions entirely today.
Ms Koike, 67, stressed the need to prepare for a second wave, and said she will set up a Tokyo version of the United States' Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, while other candidates pledged more help to those who have had their livelihoods upended by the health crisis.
While Ms Koike is in favour of possibly a slimmed-down version of the Olympics if a lid has not been put on Covid-19 by next year, her competitors are proposing either an outright cancellation or for the Games to be held in 2024 instead.
Her track record for her first term will come under scrutiny.
Critics have said that the former newscaster is very polished at "soundbite politics", but that she has managed to achieve only one of "seven zeros" from her last campaign pledge: the elimination of pet exterminations. The others, including putting an end to daycare centre wait lists, remain elusive.
While she has achieved very little in terms of her campaign promises four years ago, she now has the advantage of being compared to Abe and appears to be much more on top of things.
POLITICAL SCIENTIST KOICHI NAKANO, on Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's re-election chances.
Dr Sota Kato, executive director of The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research think-tank, noted that incumbents have never lost in previous Tokyo elections.
"Regardless of Koike's accomplishment in her first term, I think her chance of winning the election is very, very high," he told The Straits Times.
Political scientist Koichi Nakano of Sophia University added that Ms Koike has pitted herself against the national government in a tug-of-war over coronavirus measures.
"While she has achieved very little in terms of her campaign promises four years ago, she now has the advantage of being compared to Abe and appears to be much more on top of things," he told ST.