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Japan

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike vows break from the past while launching new ‘Party of Hope’ to challenge Shinzo Abe

Abe said on Monday he would dissolve parliament and call elections, hoping to capitalise on a weak and fractured opposition as well as a recent bump in the polls

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 1:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 1:32pm

Popular Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike on Wednesday vowed a break with old-school politics as she officially launched a new party she hopes will shake up the upcoming snap election in Japan.

Pledging to bring back “hope” to the Japanese people, Koike said the party aimed to “reset” the country, which is expected to go to the polls on October 22.

“Now is the time for us to carry out reforms that are un-tied to” vested interests, she told a nationally televised news conference.

Koike lamented that Japanese firms had lost their former glory, complaining that Chinese and American companies, like Amazon and Apple, “have become number one”.

“The snap election is a chance to change,” said the 65-year-old former anchorwoman, accusing the ruling conservative LDP party of being too hesitant in its reform programme.

Most commentators say Koike’s new party, called the “Party of Hope”, will not have enough time to mount a serious nationwide challenge to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before the snap vote.

It would take years for Japan’s opposition bloc to present themselves as a real option to voters again
Sadafumi Kawato, University of Tokyo

Abe said on Monday he would dissolve parliament and call elections, hoping to capitalise on a weak and fractured opposition as well as a recent bump in the polls due to voter approval of his hard line on North Korea.

Surveys put him a long way ahead of his nearest rivals but Yoel Sano, Head of Global Political and Security Risk at BMI Research, said Koike’s entry into the fray was a “major wild card”.

Voters may view Abe’s snap election as a “cynical and opportunistic move, especially given the severity of the North Korean crisis, which does not need the ‘distraction’ of an early election,” said Sano.

Koike said Abe’s decision to call a snap election had created a “political vacuum” at a time when tensions over North Korea are at fever pitch.

Elected governor of Tokyo a year ago, Koike has already begun pulling disillusioned opposition lawmakers into her powerful orbit amid rumours that she could bring the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, into the fold.

She reportedly held talks with DP leader Seiji Maehara, a former foreign minister, with a view to possibly joining forces and unifying the opposition to Abe.

Maehara’s struggling party, which changed its name from the DPJ after a smaller group joined it in March last year, has already suffered more than a dozen defectors, several of them to Koike’s party.

In a one-page policy platform, the new “Party of Hope” described itself as a “reformist conservative party.”

It said it would press ahead with a “realistic diplomacy and security policy based on pacifism,” amid North Korea tensions.

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The party also pledged to promote diversity in a society where “both women and men can participate actively”, as well as private sector innovation and “wise spending” of tax money.

Koike’s party could be a “blow” to the ruling LDP, said Sadafumi Kawato, professor of political science at the University of Tokyo.

However, he stressed that “there is no one who is seen as a serious candidate to become prime minister” in Koike’s party nor in the opposition bloc as a whole.

With the 2020 Olympics fast approaching, Koike has vowed to stay on as governor of Tokyo, meaning she won’t run herself for a seat in the parliament.

“It would take years for Japan’s opposition bloc to present themselves as a real option to voters again” after the disastrous 2009-2012 stint by the DPJ, he said.