Koike Yuriko Named Tokyo’s First Female Governor


On July 31, 2016, former Minister of Defense Koike Yuriko was elected as the new governor of Tokyo. Running as an independent candidate, she defeated Masuda Hiroya, the former minister of internal affairs and communications who was endorsed ahead of her by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Kōmeitō, and supported by the opposition Party for Japanese Kokoro. She also beat journalist Torigoe Shuntarō, who was backed by the opposition bloc consisting of the Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party, and People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends.

Koike becomes the first female governor of Tokyo and the ninth person to hold the position in the postwar era. In winning the gubernatorial contest, she will be the international face of the Japanese capital in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The election was held after a scandal concerning the use of political funds for private purposes led Masuzoe Yōichi to resign as governor on June 21. There were a record 21 candidates. Voter turnout was 59.73%, up 13.59 points from the previous election.

Top Candidates, 2016 Tokyo Governor Election

1 Koike Yuriko
2 Masuda Hiroya
(Independent; backed by LDP, Kōmeitō, PJK)
3 Torigoe Shuntarō
(Independent; backed by DP, JCP, SDP, PLP)
Voter turnout: 59.73% (2014: 46.14%)

Koike Wins Conservative Voters

After successive financial scandals forced the resignations of the previous two governors, political parties went looking for fresh candidates who could restore confidence in the metropolitan government. The LDP-Kōmeitō coalition gave its backing to Masuda, a one-time bureaucrat who shook up Iwate Prefecture in three terms as a reform-minded governor.

The DP, JCP, SDP, and PLP—which cooperated in the July 10 House of Councillors Election—again agreed to work together in supporting Torigoe. This followed the late withdrawal of Utsunomiya Kenji shortly before the start of official campaigning. Utsunomiya, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, was endorsed by the JCP and SDP when he finished second in the 2014 gubernatorial race. By dropping out of the contest this time, he allowed opposition parties to unite behind a single candidate.

While still an LDP House of Representatives lawmaker and without consulting her party, Koike announced her decision to run as an independent. She sought to woo conservative voters away from Masuda in what ultimately became a three-horse race for the governorship.

Friction Ahead?

In choosing to run as a candidate for governor of Tokyo, Koike effectively resigned her position in the lower house. She gained support from independent voters and won over many traditional LDP supporters with her pledge to make the metropolitan government more transparent.

Koike blasted the secrecy surrounding projected costs to the city for 2020 Olympic and Paralympic venues, stating that disclosure is essential. By campaigning under the slogan “City politics decided by citizens,” she pushed reform to the fore. She also severely criticized the LDP’s Tokyo chapter, so much interest will center on how she seeks to build a relationship with the metropolitan assembly over future administration of the city.

Koike Yuriko

Born in Hyōgo Prefecture in 1952. After graduating from the Department of Sociology at Cairo University, she worked as an Arabic interpreter. She later built up a career in television, including anchoring the TV Tokyo news program World Business Satellite.In 1992, she joined Japan New Party, established by former Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro, winning a proportional representation seat in the House of Councillors. The following year she secured a House of Representatives seat as a candidate in Hyōgo Prefecture. She then successively represented the New Frontier Party, the Liberal Party, and the New Conservative Party before joining the LDP in 2002. She has been elected to the House of Representatives eight times, most recently in Tokyo.

As an LDP member, she held positions including minister of the environment, minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, minister of defense, national security advisor, and chair of the LDP general council.

(Originally written in Japanese and published on August 1, 2016. Banner photo: Former Minister of Defense Koike Yuriko [center] celebrates winning the Tokyo gubernatorial race in Toshima, Tokyo, on July 31, 2016. © Jiji.)

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