Popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike launched a new political party Wednesday, promising to “reset” Japan and restore its international prestige, while also posing a powerful threat to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the nation braces for a high-stakes snap election next month.
The populist governor’s latest foray into national politics has reportedly also opened the door for a struggling opposition Democratic Party to explore a potential tie-up with her party. The new DP leader, Seiji Maehara, is trying to figure out how best to counter Abe’s ruling coalition in the October poll, including mulling a merger with the fringe opposition Liberal Party, according to local media.
By launching the new party, “we are determined to reset Japan and realize politics not beholden to any special interests,” Koike told a packed news conference in Tokyo.
“Without resetting itself, the nation will lose in international competition and fail to protect its security,” Koike said, while joining hands with 14 other lawmakers. “We all share that sense of crisis here.”
Koike billed the new party, called Kibo no To (Party of Hope), as a champion of both the reformist and conservative ethos.
“We will take on drastic changes where necessary,” she said, adding the party will at the same time “thoroughly protect” Japan’s history and tradition.
The abrupt advent of Kibo no To has roiled the nation’s political landscape, even fueling rumors that Koike, who became governor only a year ago, may already be thinking about making a comeback to national politics and running for a Lower House seat in the upcoming election.
She ruled out this scenario Wednesday, saying she will campaign for the Oct. 22 race as both head of the new party and Tokyo governor.
Kibo no To member Goshi Hosono, a conservative who left the DP last month, said he is optimistic the nascent party can secure a sufficient number of candidates to field nationwide. He said the party is “serious about wrenching power” from Abe’s ruling coalition.
In explaining Kibo no To’s direction, the new party’s members said they will push for greater female empowerment, including moves to legalize the right to use separate surnames after marriage. Other priorities include eliminating nuclear power, preventing secondhand smoke and revising the Constitution.
On amending the national charter, Hosono said debates over the war-renouncing Article 9 shouldn’t override other concerns such as better defining Japan’s decentralization and shifting to a one-house Diet.
Koike’s latest move has come as a shocker to Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party was trounced by her regional Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) party in the July Tokyo assembly election.
Members of the new party have also challenged Abe’s plan to press ahead with the 2019 consumption tax hike, saying the economy is not strong enough to validate the move, and that lawmakers should first make sacrifices by trimming the number of their own seats.
Since becoming governor last year, Koike has been skating by largely on her charisma and shrewd political showmanship that many dub the “Koike Theater.”
Wednesday’s news conference was yet another example of her media savvy. She preceded her appearance with the unveiling of a promotional film showing her in a green suit taking down a pair of screaming old men who personify the country’s vested interests and “good ol’ boy” networks.
Masaru Wakasa, one of Koike’s closest allies, said the clip exemplified the new party’s determination to shake up the male-dominated nature of society, echoing a message that helped thrust Tomin First into the sweeping victory in the July election.
Koike, however, has her share of controversy. Her active engagement with national politics has already drawn criticism that she may be compromising her responsibilities as governor. On Wednesday, she had to cut short the news conference to attend her gubernatorial duties.
“I think it will be difficult for her to double as head of a national party as she goes about trying to fulfill her heavy responsibility as the leader of 10 million residents in Tokyo,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Independent Shigefumi Matsuzawa, who himself was governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, insisted this won’t be an issue.
“Serving as a governor and a lawmaker are by themselves both incredibly grueling. An ordinary person like myself wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but governor Koike is a superwoman, so I’m sure she can make it work,” he said.
Other members of Kibo no To include former DP lawmakers Jin Matsubara, Akihisa Nagashima and Yuichi Goto as well as Kyoko Nakayama, president of the right-leaning Japanese Kokoro party, and Mineyuki Fukuda, who resigned the post of Cabinet Office vice minister and left the LDP.