The Monday editions of all national dailies reported that former college professor Yamanaka, who was supported by the opposition camp, coasted to victory in Sunday’s Yokohama mayoral election, defeating seven other candidates, including former cabinet member Okonogi, who was backed by Prime Minister Suga, and incumbent mayor Hayashi. The results dealt a heavy blow to the embattled premier, who campaigned for Okonogi, one of his closest confidants, in the belief that winning the race in his home turf would be critical to ensuring his reelection in the LDP presidential race next month and the general election in the autumn. As the winner is a staunch opponent of the idea of Japan’s second largest city hosting an integrated resort featuring a casino, the outcome was also a setback for Suga’s signature policy initiatives to launch gambling facilities for local economic rejuvenation.
The papers speculated that many voters apparently considered the coronavirus pandemic, not the casino initiative, as the key campaign agenda item, noting that Yamanaka’s campaign gained momentum while that of Okonogi lost steam amid the relentless spike in infections in Yokohama as the ex-academic highlighted his accomplishments in combating the virus at the medical department of a local university until recently. As the public has been highly critical of the Suga administration’s response to the prolonged public health crisis, the papers conjectured that voters rejected the Suga-backed Okonogi because of the GOJ’s poor handling of the outbreak. According to exit polls, Yamanaka commanded support from 40% of independent voters, while Okonogi gathered only about 10%.