— Yuriko Koike, a conservative former defense minister of Japan
, became the first woman elected governor of Tokyo on Sunday, handily winning a vote to replace the city’s previous chief executive after he fell to a financial scandal.
Ms. Koike’s biography is unusual for a Japanese politician, even apart from her gender. A divorced former newscaster, she attended a university in Egypt
and speaks fluent Arabic.
She won what was essentially a three-way race, defeating her closest opponent, Hiroya Masuda, another former cabinet minister, by more than a million votes, according to preliminary tallies by Japanese news media. Mr. Masuda was the official candidate of the national governing party, the Liberal Democrats. Ms. Koike, 64, is also a Liberal Democrat, but she broke with the party to seek the governor’s post. The role roughly combines the duties of an American mayor and a state governor.
“I want to regain the trust of the people of Tokyo,” Ms. Koike said after initial projections were broadcast on Sunday night, alluding to the scandal that prompted her predecessor to resign in June.
Ms. Koike was the most right-leaning of the three leading candidates. As a member of Parliament, where she had served since 1992 until she resigned her seat in mid-July, she supported conservative causes like removing antiwar provisions from Japan’s Constitution, although her move to city politics will put that issue and others outside her official purview.
Women have been elected to governorships in Japan before, but never in Tokyo, which is both the nation’s capital and its largest city.
In addition to governing a municipality of 13.6 million residents — the core of what is the world’s most populous urban area, with at least 20 million more people in its separately administered suburbs — Ms. Koike will be responsible for preparing Tokyo for the Olympic Games in 2020. One of her first duties will be to travel to Rio de Janeiro
, the site of this year’s Games, to represent Tokyo as the event’s next host.
Ms. Koike’s predecessor, Yoichi Masuzoe, battled with national Olympic officials over the Tokyo Games’s rapidly escalating budget. He left office after he acknowledged using political funds to pay for personal travel and entertainment, setting off a public furor.
“I voted for Koike because I have hopes for the first female governor,” said Akiko Kashiwabara, a 39-year-old woman who voted in Chofu, a residential area in the west of the city. “I want her to keep the Olympic budget from growing, to reduce the burden on Tokyo residents.”
Ms. Koike won the election despite splitting the conservative vote with Mr. Masuda, a former internal affairs minister and governor of Iwate Prefecture l, in northeastern Japan.
Mr. Masuda lacked Ms. Koike’s name recognition in the capital, while the other leading candidate, Shuntaro Torigoe, a journalist, was well known but handicapped by his age, 76, and lack of political experience.
“Masuda looks like every other Liberal Democratic Party politician, but Koike has the image of a reformer,” said Katsunori Sasamoto, 30, who works at a maritime logistics company and also voted in Chofu. “Torigoe will be 80 by the time the Olympics come, and I worry he wouldn’t be up to the job.”
Perhaps Ms. Koike’s most critical task will be to stay out of financial trouble. The man who held the governor’s post before Mr. Masuzoe, Naoki Inose, also resigned over a financial scandal, in his case involving campaign funding, and Ms. Koike will be Tokyo’s third governor in less than three years.
Ms. Koike entered politics in 1992 after a career as a television news anchor. She served as defense minister under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during Mr. Abe’s first, short-lived term in office in 2007, at a time when Japan was supporting the United States
-led military interventions in Iraq
. She also ran unsuccessfully for the national Liberal Democratic Party leadership.
As a young woman in the 1970s, Ms. Koike left a university in Japan to study in Egypt, first learning Arabic at the American University in Cairo, then earning a degree in sociology from Cairo
University. She married a fellow Japanese student whom she met in Egypt, but they divorced soon after.