Tokyo goes to the polls as COVID-shadowed Olympics loom

Sunday’s vote is important as a bellwether for a lower house election that needs to be held by October.

People wearing face masks walk by a railway station in the rain in Tokyo on July 2, 2021 [Hiro Komae/AP Photo]

Voters in Japan’s capital Tokyo are casting their ballots in a city assembly election dominated by worries about health risks during the Olympic Games as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Sunday’s vote will have little impact on the games, which are due to open in three weeks, but is important as a bellwether for a lower house election that needs to be held by October.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s term as party president will expire at the end of September, and a strong showing by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Tokyo poll could help him clinch another term, analysts say.

The head of the LDP is virtually assured of being prime minister, given the party’s large majority in parliament.

A recent survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily showed 23 percent of respondents, saying they would vote for LDP candidates, versus 17 percent for the Tokyo Citizens First party and 8 percent for the Japanese Communist Party.

The Tokyo Citizens First party, founded by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, is now the largest party in the city assembly and wants the Olympics held without spectators.

Suga has said he intended to hold the games but would not hesitate to bar spectators if deemed necessary.

The Tokyo Olympics, postponed for a year over the virus outbreaks, begins on July 23.

Public opinion surveys show most people want the games cancelled or postponed further.

Some medical experts have warned it could become a COVID-19 superspreader event, warning that new cases in Tokyo could shoot up to thousands. The capital on Saturday reported 716 new infections, its highest in more than five weeks.

Meanwhile, only about 10 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

In Sunday’s balloting, 271 candidates are vying for 127 seats. Eligible voters total 9.8 million people in the megacity with a population of nearly 14 million.

“My focus on this election was the pandemic measures,” a 26-year-old freelance actor, who is hearing-impaired, wrote in a note to a Reuters news agency reporter outside the polling station.

He also asked not to be named.

“I picked the candidate who would take actions to save infected people, as I am afraid of losing my job and my income if I get infected,” he said, declining to name the party. “I don’t care about political parties.”

Polls close at 8pm (11:00 GMT) and ballot counting will start immediately after that.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies