Yuriko Koike expected to clinch second term as Tokyo governor amid coronavirus resurgence

A wall of posters featuring candidates in Tokyo's election tomorrow. Governor Yuriko Koike (top row, in green blazer) is tipped to be re-elected, having won praise for her decisive handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. PHOTO: REUTERS
A wall of posters featuring candidates in Tokyo's election tomorrow. Governor Yuriko Koike (top row, in green blazer) is tipped to be re-elected, having won praise for her decisive handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tomorrow's polls will be Japan's largest since virus outbreak and will reflect her handling of crisis

Tokyo will vote for its governor tomorrow amid a resurgence in coronavirus infections, with 124 new cases recorded yesterday, the second straight day the tally has crossed 100.

This is a far cry from the fewer than 10 daily cases recorded in Tokyo around May 25, when the state of emergency was lifted.

Tokyo, whose economy is the size of Indonesia's, has a population of 14 million and an electorate of 11.5 million, though voting is not compulsory and about one in two people do not vote.

Still, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has issued a 16-page document to its 62 municipalities detailing recommended safeguards at their polling stations.

The document, obtained by The Straits Times, contains such measures as advising voters to bring their own stationery.

Polling stations are also urged to issue disposable gloves to voters, while polling agents are to wear masks at all times and ensure voters practise social distancing.

Polling will be from 7am to 8pm, but people were encouraged to cast their ballots in early voting - before tomorrow's official polling day - so as to reduce potential congestion at booths.

The TMG has also left it up to individual municipalities to decide how to implement and enforce safeguards, given the sharp disparity in infection risk between areas.

Compared to Shinjuku, which accounted for 50 of the 124 new cases yesterday, the Ogasawara islands - Japan's southern-most village administered by Tokyo and accessible only by a 24-hour ferry ride and with a population of 3,073 people - has a much lower risk of infection.

Tomorrow's election will be Japan's largest polls since the Covid-19 pandemic, and effectively amounts to a referendum of how Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has handled the crisis.

Ms Koike, 67, is widely expected to clinch a second four-year term, far outdistancing her nearest rivals with support of about 80 per cent in media polls last weekend.

Among those in the rest of the pack are Mr Taro Yamamoto, 45, leader of opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi that elected two severely handicapped candidates to the Diet; and Mr Kenji Utsunomiya, 73, the former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Ms Koike has won praise for her decisive handling of the pandemic, though the recent rise in infections may prove to complicate her bid.

She has sought to assuage concerns by emphasising that a repeat of business closure requests is not imminent, given that hospitals are not at risk of being overwhelmed.

Unlike in April, when most of the infected were elderly, who are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms, 70 per cent of the new cases are in their 20s and 30s.

Still, Tokyo officials are worried that youth with mild or no symptoms could inadvertently infect the elderly and worsen the spread of the coronavirus. But they are hamstrung by a reluctance to again cripple the economy so soon after the return of a semblance of normalcy.

Ms Koike yesterday called for a "renewed sense of urgency" and vowed to take the necessary steps to stop the spread of Covid-19 but without introducing any new countermeasures.

  • Proposed Covid-19 safeguards

  • These are some of the recommended Covid-19 safeguards for Tokyo's gubernatorial election tomorrow:

     • Voters are to put on masks and disinfect their hands when entering the polling station

     • Polling stations are encouraged to provide disposable vinyl gloves to voters

     • Voters are encouraged to use their own pencils. Those who do not bring their own may use the provided ones, which will be disinfected after each use.

     • Voters are to exercise social distancing, and keep a minimum distance of 1m from one another

     • Municipalities are advised to, where possible, give voters updates of the congestion status

     • "Absentee voting" may be conducted for those in quarantine, and ballot papers are not to be touched with bare hands

    Walter Sim

What will be of concern to the national authorities is the uptick in cases in the neighbouring prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa, while cases linked to recent travel to Tokyo have also emerged in Fukushima, Tottori and Ibaraki.

There were 236 cases nationwide as at 9pm yesterday, a tally by NHK showed. This is the first time the daily national tally has crossed 200 since May 3.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2020, with the headline 'Koike expected to clinch second term as Tokyo governor'. Print Edition | Subscribe