Tokyo goes to the polls as pandemic-shadowed Olympics loom

Newly installed Olympic rings for celebrating the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in Yokohama
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By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) -Tokyo residents went to the polls on Sunday to pick members of its metropolitan assembly just 19 days before the Olympic Games begin, as surveys showed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was likely to win the vote.

The capital's election, in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, will have little impact on the long-planned Games, but is important as a bellwether for a lower house election that needs to be held by October.

Suga's term as party president will expire at the end of September, and a strong showing by his party 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.

Still, some people disapprove of the LDP.

"I wanted to give my vote to someone in the opposition as I don't support the current (national) government," said Noriko Ushimaru, a woman in her 80s. "They are hopeless in coronavirus responses. I don't see their determination to curb the virus."

She mentioned a plan to hold the Tokyo Olympics amid the pandemic and vaccine supply shortages as examples of what she believes are the government's inadequate anti-coronavirus measures.

Polls close at 8 p.m. (1100 GMT), with results expected to become clear during the night.

Turnout as of midday was an estimated 9.33%, or 5.15 percentage points lower than at the same time in the last such election, Kyodo news agency said.

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

The Tokyo Citizens First party wants the Olympics held without spectators and the Japanese Communist Party wants them cancelled. Suga has said he intended to hold the Games but would not hesitate to bar spectators if deemed necessary.

Tokyo Citizens First is now the largest party in the metropolitan assembly with 46 of its 127 seats, followed by the LDP with 25. The regional party formed by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike won a landslide victory in the last election in 2017.

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

The election also comes during a resurgence of the pandemic in Japan, with Tokyo reporting 716 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, its highest in more than five weeks.

"My focus on this election was the pandemic measures," a 26-year-old freelance actor, who is deaf, wrote in a note to a reporter outside the polling station. He 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 the name the party. "I don't care about political parties."

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and William Mallard)

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