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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Tokyo Elects New Governor

Aug. 1, 2016

Voters in Tokyo have chosen their first female governor. Former defense minister Yuriko Koike takes on the role, inheriting substantial challenges.

She'll lead the Japanese capital's preparations for the 2020 Olympics and she'll try to regain public confidence after 2 predecessors stepped down amid scandals.

Koike swept to victory on Sunday, winning 2.9 million votes in the race to lead Tokyo.

"I made my case for how I will create a Tokyo where everyone can shine -- women, men, children, senior citizens and people living with disabilities. I will work with you all to create a new Tokyo government like we have never seen before," Koike said.

Koike is a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but ran as an independent. She defeated the LDP-backed candidate by more than a million votes.

Koike promised reform. She said she would set up an organization to bring transparency to Tokyo politics, and pledged to make sure tax money is spent properly.

The last 2 Tokyo governors resigned over financial scandals. Predecessor Yoichi Masuzoe resigned in June over criticism that he misused political funds for private purposes.

"I want her to live up to our expectations by using our money responsibly," said one man in the capital.

"I want the Olympics to be simple. I think a big budget isn't necessary," said a female resident.

Tokyo Governor-elect Yuriko Koike is 64 years old. She's the first woman to take charge of the capital.

Koike graduated from Cairo University and worked as a TV news anchor before turning to politics. She opted for a career in politics, and was first elected to the Upper House in 1992.

"I believe that voters entrusted me with the task of bringing change," Koike said.

She joined the Liberal Democratic Party in 2002, after switching allegiances between 4 different conservative parties.

Under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Koike earned her first Cabinet post as environment minister. Tackling global warming was one of her priorities.

Koike initiated the so-called Cool Biz campaign that transformed the summer dress code of Japanese workers. Men were encouraged to dress casually without a tie during the sweltering Japanese summer.

Koike began by persuading Koizumi, ministers, bureaucrats and lawmakers to dress down. The style is now a common choice for office workers.

At an international conference on climate change, Koike negotiated with her counterparts in English and Arabic. She went her own way, preferring to discuss issues in her own words rather than just reading from papers prepared by bureaucrats.

In the 2005 general election, Koike stood in an electoral district in Tokyo, instead of her own constituency in Hyogo Prefecture. She ran against a candidate who opposed Koizumi's politics, and won.

That helped form Koike's image as a politician keen to be close to the center of power. Her track record of switching parties also underlined her ambition.

In 2007, She became Japan's first female defense minister. She urged a high-ranking ministry official who had been in the post for an unusually long time to step down.

The official quit, but Koike also resigned, ending her tenure after just less than 2 months. In Japan's bureaucrat-led politics, Koike has been unusual in confronting officials if necessary to help further her agenda.

She has built relationships in the Middle East, making good use of her language skills -- again unusual traits for a Japanese politician.

Now Koike has been handed the task of steering Tokyo through the next 4 years, leading the metropolitan government and its 160,000 employees.


NHK World's Tomoko Kamata joins anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio.

Beppu: What exactly is expected of Koike when she takes charge of the capital?

Kamata: Well, she starts off with the high expectations of millions of voters. One of her first -- and likely the most difficult -- tasks will be to prepare the city for the 2020 Olympics. Government officials revealed late last year that the budget for the Games will be 6-times more than first estimated. It's now thought they will cost about 17.6 billion dollars. The previous governor agreed to share the cost with the Japanese government and other related organizations. But it's still undecided how much Tokyo will pay.

Koike will soon be at the negotiating table with central government officials. Of course, that will be taxpayers' money, so many people want her to keep the cost of the Games down, and make the process transparent.

Shibuya: What about social welfare policy? We heard candidates debating the lack of childcare facilities.

Kamata: Right, support for raising children was one of the key election issues. Over 8,000 children in the capital are currently waiting for a daycare place -- that's the largest number among all Japan's prefectures. New facilities and more staff are clearly needed. Koike promised to solve the issue, and said she would use public buildings and parks to address the problem. But many administrative hurdles stand in the way before she can put that plan into practice.

Beppu: As we know, 2 of her predecessors resigned over money scandals, so it's very important for her to regain the public's trust. But at the same time it's not an easy task.

Kamata: Koike promised that she will work with transparency. She said she will work out what's needed to prevent a recurrence of previous scandals. Tokyo faces many problems in the years ahead, so people are watching and waiting to see how Koike leads the capital.