[TOKYO] The governor of Tokyo resigned Wednesday over spending public money on lavish hotels and spa trips, the latest setback on the mega-city's troubled road to hosting the 2020 Olympics.
Unpopular Yoichi Masuzoe fell on his sword just hours before facing a no-confidence vote, making him the city's second governor to quit since Tokyo was named host of the 2020 summer games.
Mr Masuzoe's predecessor Naoki Inose - who led the capital's successful Olympic bid - bowed out in late 2013 after also becoming embroiled in a personal finance scandal.
On assuming office as governor, the French-speaking Masuzoe, a former health and labour minister, pledged to run an administration free of money scandals.
But Mr Masuzoe's woes began in April when reports emerged that he was using his official car to be driven at the weekends to a cottage south of Tokyo.
Further allegations emerged that Mr Masuzoe had travelled overseas in first class, brought art online and spent public money on family outings and accommodation in Japan.
Mr Masuzoe, who faced repeated grilling by the legislature and in the media, had admitted to ethical lapses but denied breaking any laws.
In a short speech before the Tokyo legislature, a chastened Masuzoe said he had worked hard for the 2020 Olympics and was filled with regret.
"But I am responsible for all of this," he said.
Lawmakers approved his resignation, effective June 21, shortly before he spoke.
An election for a new governor is expected as early as next month.
Mr Masuzoe's departure is unlikely to significantly impact the city's ability to manage the Olympics, but it adds to the lengthening list of embarrassments that have plagued the preparations for the games.
The original main stadium design had to be scrapped over ballooning costs and the official logo was caught up in a plagiarism row. French prosecutors have also launched an investigation into US$2 million in alleged bribes linked to Tokyo's host bid, an allegation the organisers deny.
Yuko Arakida, a board member of the organising committee, told local media Masuzoe's departure was "extremely regrettable", citing his "foreign language proficiency" and "emotional attachment to the Games".
His resignation "will not bring about a positive image" of Tokyo, she added.
As the scandal mounted, all the major parties in the Tokyo legislature agreed to submit a no-confidence motion against Mr Masuzoe.
Local media reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) - the biggest force in the capital's politics and Masuzoe's main supporter - was concerned that the scandal-tainted governor could also damage its chances in upcoming parliamentary elections.
The motion was shelved when Mr Masuzoe preempted it by resigning.
The brouhaha has not gone down well with the general public in Japan amid stagnant economic growth and increasing hardship among low-wage earners.
A perception of arrogance and entitlement on the part of the governor has also been criticised.
Local media immediately began speculating on possible candidates to succeed Mr Masuzoe.
Among them are opposition lower house member and former TV anchorwoman Renho, who goes by one name, and Yuriko Koike, also a lower house member for the ruling LDP, a former defence minister and anchorwoman.