• Kyodo, Staff Report

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As speculation grows that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will dissolve the Lower House for a snap election early in 2017, Democratic Party leader Renho is seen cozying up with popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, whom she had harshly criticized only few months ago.

Renho’s move reflects her concern over the low popularity of her party and the rising worries among DP members over what would happen if Koike were to found a new party of her own.

“I truly marvel at the success she has made in bringing to light the failure of her predecessors to tackle their challenges head-on. I’d be happy to cooperate if there is anything I can do,” Renho said of Koike as she spoke to reporters in Okawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Sunday.

The comments present an apparent about-face from those she made during the campaign for the Tokyo gubernatorial race in July, when she repeatedly criticized Koike in support of Shuntaro Torigoe, a candidate jointly fielded by the DP and other opposition parties.

In fact, it took Renho — who was elected president of the Democratic Party on Sept. 15 — only a week to visit Koike at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku Ward.

During that Sept. 23 meeting, Renho offered to cooperate with the capital in trimming costs for holding the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Goshi Hosono, vice president of the DP, also lauded Koike’s much-hyped “Tokyoites-first” policy — in which she has vowed to prioritize the interest of Tokyo residents — dubbing it “clear-cut.”

“There is a lot we can learn from the policy,” Hosono told a news conference.

Driving Renho’s attempt to court Koike is the DP’s chronically anemic public support.

A Kyodo News poll conducted after the DP leadership election showed that while 56.9 percent of respondents had high hopes for Renho herself, the party’s support rate remained sluggish at 9.9 percent, slightly down from the previous month.

Disheartened by the sharp divide between Renho’s popularity and her party’s support rate, some DP executives lamented that there’s nothing left to do but jump on the Koike bandwagon.

Apparently spurred by the notion, Renho, when taking the podium during an Upper House plenary session Wednesday, made sure to dedicate a part of her speech to echoing Koike’s criticism of the controversial relocation plan for the Tsukiji fish market and of snowballing costs for the Olympics.

Adding to the disquiet of DP executives is Koike’s rumored plan to form her own political party.

The possibility reminds DP members of what has since become known as the “Osaka nightmare,” when Ishin no To, headed by then-Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, defeated the Democratic Party of Japan, the DP’s predecessor, in a 2014 Lower House election. The DPJ managed to win only one seat in Osaka’s 19 constituencies.

A new party under Koike “would deal a heavy blow to the DP, not the LDP,” a source close to Renho said.

“The only way Renho can survive is if she becomes the national equivalent of Koike and copies her strength,” the source said.

DP ranks outside of Renho’s power structure, however, take a dim view of such a strategy.

“Reviving the party is a long way off unless, perhaps, the Koike side shows willingness to cooperate with us,” one said.

Said another: “Koike is much better than Renho at pulling off theatrical politics. She’s stealing the media spotlight, too.”

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