Tokyo votes to elect new governor after scandals

Tokyo residents were voting Sunday for a new governor of the sprawling metropolis who will have to manage problem-plagued preparations for the 2020 Olympics after financial scandals forced the last two incumbents to quit.

The major challenge facing the winner is managing the run-up to Tokyo`s troubled hosting of the 2020 Summer Olympics, especially reining in soaring costs.

Euphoria at securing the right to host sport`s marquee event in 2013 has given way to frustration as preparations have been plagued by gaffes and scandals.

A record 21 candidates are vying to lead the sprawling metropolis of 13.6 million people with an economy the size of Indonesia`s.

Local media surveys, however, suggest it is a three-way race between former defence chief Yuriko Koike, ex-Iwate prefecture governor Hiroya Masuda and veteran TV journalist Shuntaro Torigoe.

Ballot counting begins immediately after polls close at 8 pm (1100 GMT). 

The election was called after previous governor Yoichi Masuzoe abruptly resigned, felled by a funds scandal centred on lavish spending of public money. He served just over half of his term.

His predecessor Naoki Inose -- who had led the successful bid to win the Games -- bowed out later that year after becoming embroiled in a personal finance scandal, serving just one year.

Koike, a 64-year-old former TV anchorwoman, speaks fluent English and Arabic -- the latter acquired as a student in Cairo -- and has also served as environment minister.

She has compared herself to Hillary Clinton and was once seen as having the best chance to be Japan`s first female prime minister, but was defeated when running for the post in 2008. 

Masuda, also 64 and backed by Abe`s ruling coalition -- which spurned Koike for not seeking its approval before announcing her candidacy -- is a veteran administrator who won plaudits as governor of northeastern Iwate for 12 years until 2007.

Also in the running, is 76-year-old Torigoe, a liberal journalist widely known in Japan for his ubiquitous TV appearances and also as a cancer survivor.
The winner`s term will run until just after the Games commence and how they handle the run-up will be closely watched.

A key challenge will be getting a grip on swelling costs, seen as possibly double or triple the reported original forecast of 730 billion yen ($6.92 billion).

The Tokyo Games have also has been hit by one embarrassment after another.

Last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to tear up blueprints for a new Olympic stadium because of ballooning costs, while organisers ditched the official logo after the designer was accused of plagiarism. A new one was solicited.

Such fiascoes, however, have since been overshadowed by allegations of corruption, and French prosecutors have launched an investigation into alleged bribes linked to Tokyo`s bid. Organisers have denied wrongdoing.

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