Koike’s Party of Hope flops as Japan's new liberal party grabs top opposition post

The opposition Party of Hope, formed only weeks before the election by the popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, suffered a drubbing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 11:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 10:49pm

A new liberal party has become the main opposition force after edging ahead of another novice party led by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike in Sunday’s general election, a significant accomplishment for the party hastily formed amid an abrupt opposition realignment.

With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party gaining a solid victory, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, formed by the liberal wing of the collapsing former opposition Democratic Party, won 54 seats, still far from enough to make it a formidable force against the ruling bloc.

But the party was expected to increase its profile by opposing moves to amend the pacifist article in Japan’s Constitution and seek a change in Abe’s economic policies, which it believes has increased social disparity.

“We will work to realise politics that sides with the people … This is the starting point,” party leader Yukio Edano said.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, the CDPJ’s secretary general, said earlier: “We’ve called for the need to bring back ‘proper politics’ and we felt that resonating with more people day by day.”

The party started off with only 16 House of Representatives lawmakers, but has picked up support through the 12-day election campaigning period by calling for an end to Abe’s unrivalled grip on power and opposing an amendment of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, as proposed by Abe.

The Party of Hope, which has taken on much of the Democratic Party’s conservative wing, was initially seen to become the main rival to the LDP, having the popular governor as its leader.

But momentum quickly fizzled amid a furore over Koike’s stance to “exclude” Democratic Party members from joining her party if they cannot agree with its views on national security policies and constitutional amendments.

“It is a very tough outcome,” Koike told reporters in Paris which she was visiting, admitting she herself bears some of the blame for having “offended people” with her attitude.

But she denied any intention of stepping down as party leader, saying: “I have the responsibility of having founded the party.”

Her party, which briefly jumped in opinion polls last month, won 49 seats.

Koike’s close aide and one of the founding members of the party, Masaru Wakasa, lost his seat both in a Tokyo constituency and also failed to be elected under the proportional representation system.

Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara, who faced criticism for letting his party break up amid the opposition realignment, ran as an independent in a single-seat constituency in Kyoto, and was re-elected for the ninth time as a lower house member.

About the prospects for the Democratic Party, which still has House of Councillors members, Maehara told public broadcaster NHK that he would make a decision by consulting other members.

He also said that he would “take responsibility” for the recent development after deciding the fate of his party.

“As a matter of course, I will resign (as party leader).”

The Democratic Party did not endorse any candidates in the election, with its members running either from the Party of Hope, the CDPJ, or as independents.

The Japanese Communist Party, which cooperated with the CDPJ so that their candidates would not have to clash in the same single-seat constituencies, won fewer than the 21 seats it held before the election.

“It was painful to withdraw our candidates, but our decision was correct from a broader perspective” in an attempt to bring down the LDP-led government, JCP chief Kazuo Shii said.

The election was framed as a three-way battle between the ruling coalition parties, the conservative Party of Hope and Japan Innovation Party, and the CDPJ and JCP. But the divisions among the opposition forces apparently benefited the ruling parties.

Although final results are yet to be announced, the CDPJ is certain to become the main opposition party with the least number of seats since 1955.

The previous record low was 57 seats secured by the Democratic Party of Japan, the predecessor of the Democratic Party, when it was ousted from power in the 2012 general election.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse