Tokyo residents will head to the polls Sunday to decide who will lead the Japanese capital for the next four years, with polls suggesting Gov. Yuriko Koike will win a second term in office.
With a total of 21 challengers failing to build a united front against Koike, a former defense minister and environment minister, she has boosted her standing with the public by being aggressive in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, though the number of infections in Tokyo shows signs of resurging.
In the early days of the virus outbreak in Japan, the 67-year-old asked Tokyo residents to stay at home and provided financial support to beleaguered businesses, in comparison to the criticism over what some perceived as the poor initial handling of the crisis by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government.
In a recent Kyodo News telephone poll, 22.8 percent of 1,030 respondents said they appreciate Koike's work in her first term and 57.8 percent said they do somewhat.
Asked what is the most important issue in the upcoming election, 25.2 percent chose "policies," 21.3 percent "leadership," and 14.6 percent measures against the virus spread.
Koike, who is running as an independent, maintains a strong lead even among those supporting particular parties.
The Kyodo poll, conducted June 26 to 28, showed she has the backing of about 70 percent of supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and around 90 percent of those supporting Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner.
Koike's appeal is far-reaching, with 60 percent of unaffiliated voters and even 60 percent of supporters of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan saying they plan to vote for her, according to the poll.
Only 20 percent of CDPJ supporters said they would vote for Kenji Utsunomiya, 73, a lawyer who is backed by the CDPJ and two other opposition parties.
Besides Utsunomiya, other major challengers are Taro Yamamoto, 45, a former actor and leader of the anti-establishment party Reiwa Shinsengumi, and Taisuke Ono, 46, a former vice governor of Kumamoto Prefecture backed by the opposition Japan Innovation Party.
Another main issue in the election is the hosting of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which have been postponed for a year until next year due to the global pandemic.
Koike pledges to host the games in a simplified and less costly manner, while Utsunomiya said the events should be cancelled if pandemic experts advise Tokyo to do so. Yamamoto calls for cancellation.
In the Kyodo survey, 31.1 percent said Tokyo can host the games but should consider options such as holding the competitions behind closed doors, while 27.7 percent said the events should be cancelled.
Media polls show that up to 30 percent of Tokyo's 11.47 million eligible voters have yet to decide who to vote for, leaving open the possibility of a momentum shift on election day.
However, drumming up excitement has proved a challenge amid concerns stump speeches and other traditional methods of campaigning could spread the novel coronavirus.