20 Jun 2024, 11:08

Tokyo governor race kicks off with birth rate pledges

TOKYO, June 20, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Campaigning began in Tokyo's gubernatorial election on Thursday, with veteran incumbent Yuriko Koike challenged by opposition figure Renho -- two prominent women in Japan's heavily male-dominated political sphere.

Both have pledged to expand support for child-rearing to address the perennially low birth rate in the capital, as Japan faces a looming demographic crisis.

Koike, 71, is seeking her third term as governor of the megacity of 14 million people in the July 7 vote.

Having taken office in 2016 as the first woman to hold the position, the former defence and environment minister managed the capital's Covid-19 response and helped organise the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics.

A record 50 people have so far filed their candidacy for the gubernatorial election, Japanese media reports said. The final number will be announced this afternoon.

One of Koike's most serious challengers is Renho, 56, a former model and TV anchor who goes by one name.

She is an experienced politician who has positioned herself as a liberal voice against the long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Koike is not an LDP member -- both are running as independent candidates -- but the party is broadly, if unofficially, supporting her candidacy.

Japan has never had a woman prime minister and 84 percent of lawmakers are men, according to statistics published by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP).

Among the top issues faced by Japan and other developed economies is a plunging birth rate, which Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called an urgent risk to society.

The average number of children a woman is expected to have in Japan hit a record low of 1.20 last year, and Tokyo's figure was 0.99 -- the first rate below one for any Japanese region.

"My goal is to create a Tokyo where money is not a factor for raising children and education," Koike told reporters this week.

She pledged to expand funding for epidural pain relief in labour, and to increase rent support for families with children in addition to existing policies such as making public high schools free.

Renho has also pledged to build on Koike's policies to ease the burden on parents, as well as wider measures to help young people and address labour inequality.

She was the minister in charge of administrative reforms from 2020-11 as part of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan, and recently left the CDP.

"Anti-LDP politics, non-Koike governance -- I want to take on the Tokyo gubernatorial election with this stance," Renho said in May.

In a modern twist to campaigning, Koike has launched an official AI version of herself, which speaks fluent English and delivers updates from the city government.


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