TOKYO — Tokyo’s governor and her political rival, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, agreed Monday to cooperate on handling the coronavirus outbreak to safely hold the Olympics next year.
Gov. Yuriko Koike met with Abe a day after she won her second term representing the Japanese capital in an overwhelming election victory buoyed by public support for her handling of the pandemic despite a recent rise in infections in the capital region.
Abe congratulated Koike for her victory and said: “Gov. Koike and I will have to cooperate more closely than ever.”
Koike, who showed up in her work jacket with a Tokyo government logo on the back, said her most pressing task is to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus and asked for Abe’s support.
“I will firmly overcome the pandemic with the help of the power of the government, and lead to the Olympics and Paralympics as a proof of our victory,” Koike said.
The first woman to head Tokyo prefecture, Koike, 67, is viewed as a potential candidate to succeed Abe when his term ends in September 2021. A ultra-conservative from Abe’s ruling party, Koike has also served key ministerial posts in environment and defense.
For now, she denies speculation of her return to national politics and says she’s focused on protecting the lives of the 14 million people in Tokyo, a megacity with a $1 trillion economy.
After her meeting with Abe, Koike renewed her campaign pledge to set up a Tokyo version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by cooperating with the health ministry and other experts. She also tried to gain public understanding for a simpler version of the Tokyo Olympics after the games were postponed to next year because of the virus.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK said its exit polls showed that 74% of respondents supported Koike, with 63% saying they approved of her handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Though Koike has not fully delivered on her promises to Tokyo residents to relieve congestion on commuter trains, ensure adequate availability of child and elder care facilities and end overwork, even her critics have generally lauded her handling of the pandemic, in contrast to Abe, who has been criticized for doing too little, too late.
As the pandemic deepened in the spring, Koike often upstaged Abe, whose support ratings have plunged due to his handling of the crisis and its severe impact on the economy, on top of a slew of political scandals.
A former TV newscaster, Koike is stylish and media savvy. She earned the nickname “Migratory Bird” for hopping between parties and forming new alliances — at least seven times — a rarity among Japanese politicians, who are known for their loyalty to party factions.