[TOKYO] Tokyo residents were voting Sunday for a new governor of the sprawling metropolis who will have to manage problem-plagued preparations for the 2020 Olympics and avoid financial scandals that forced the last two incumbents to quit.
The major challenge facing the winner is managing the run-up to Tokyo's troubled hosting of the 2020 Summer Olympics, especially reining in soaring costs.
Euphoria at securing the right to host sport's marquee event in 2013 has given way to frustration as preparations have been plagued by gaffes and scandals.
A record 21 candidates are vying to lead the sprawling metropolis of 13.6 million people with an economy the size of Indonesia's.
Local media surveys, however, suggest it is a three-way race between former defence chief Yuriko Koike, ex-Iwate prefecture governor Hiroya Masuda and veteran TV journalist Shuntaro Torigoe.
Ballot counting begins immediately after polls close at 8pm (1100 GMT).
The election was called after previous governor Yoichi Masuzoe abruptly resigned, felled by a funds scandal centred on lavish spending of public money. He served just over half of his term.
His predecessor Naoki Inose - who had led the successful bid to win the Games - bowed out later that year after becoming embroiled in a personal finance scandal, serving just one year.
Koike, a 64-year-old former TV anchorwoman, speaks fluent English and Arabic - the latter acquired as a student in Cairo - and has also served as environment minister.
She has compared herself to Hillary Clinton and was once seen as having the best chance to be Japan's first female prime minister, but was defeated when running for the post in 2008.
Masuda, also 64 and backed by Abe's ruling coalition - which spurned Koike for not seeking its approval before announcing her candidacy - is a veteran administrator who won plaudits as governor of northeastern Iwate for 12 years until 2007.
Also in the running, is 76-year-old Torigoe, a liberal journalist widely known in Japan for his ubiquitous TV appearances and also as a cancer survivor.
The winner's term will run until just after the Games commence and how they handle the run-up will be closely watched.
A key challenge will be getting a grip on swelling costs, seen as possibly double or triple the reported original forecast of 730 billion yen (S$9.3 billion).
The Tokyo Games have also has been hit by one embarrassment after another.
Last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to tear up blueprints for a new Olympic stadium because of ballooning costs, while organisers ditched the official logo after the designer was accused of plagiarism. A new one was solicited.
Such fiascoes, however, have since been overshadowed by allegations of corruption, and French prosecutors have launched an investigation into alleged bribes linked to Tokyo's bid. Organisers have denied wrongdoing.
Other key issues in the election include Tokyo's dire childcare shortage and overseeing disaster response plans and preparations due to perennial earthquake threats to the capital.