By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe resigned on Wednesday after coming under fire for misuse of tax money, including spending on family trips and artwork, the latest embarrassment as the Japanese capital prepares to host the 2020 Olympics.
He is the second governor to quit since Tokyo won the right to hold the 2020 summer games, though officials say his departure will not have an impact on preparations. His predecessor quit over a funding scandal just months after the city got the games.
Masuzoe, 67, who won election in 2014 with support from the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, came under increasing pressure to quit due to his repeated refusals to explain his use of public funds, which included buying comic books for his children.
He quit hours before a no-confidence vote was scheduled in the Tokyo assembly. Masuzoe later said his predicament was “due to my own problems”.
“I have nothing but feeling of regret, and I’m solely to blame for everything,” he told the assembly after his resignation was unanimously approved.
Officials from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had earlier met him and called for his resignation, fearing a voter backlash in an Upper House election next month should he stay in office.
Masuzoe’s refusal to explain his spending fueled anger among voters, who have bombarded the government with thousands of complaints. Opinion polls found a vast majority calling for him to quit.
Masuzoe’s resignation takes effect on June 21, with an election for his successor likely on either July 31 or Aug. 7.
Masuzoe on Monday pledged to return his salary and begged that the no-confidence vote be postponed until after the Rio Olympics end on Aug. 22, when the Olympic flag will be transferred to Tokyo as host of the next games.
“I thought having an election with the Rio Olympics near at hand would be inappropriate for Tokyo as the next host city,” he told the assembly.
“But it’s intolerable for me to see the administration of Tokyo being stagnant any longer.”
The resignation of Masuzoe’s predecessor Naoki Inose slowed preparations for the Olympics, but Tokyo 2020 officials said this week Masuzoe’s woes were having no impact.
But planning has been hit by troubles including scrapping plans for the main stadium and plagiarism allegations, forcing organizers to abandon their original games logo.
Tokyo’s bid has also come under scrutiny after questions were raised about payments by the bid committee.
(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)