Speculation that Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike may run for a Lower House seat is fast losing steam, as the governor dismissed the prospect of her return to the Diet in the Oct. 22 election as “100 percent impossible.”
Ever since her surprise establishment of the new political party Kibo no To (Party of Hope) last week, Nagatacho, the political epicenter of the nation, has been awash with rumors that Koike may step down as governor and instead wage an all-out war against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by running for a seat herself.
In Japan, only a Diet member is eligible to become prime minister, according to the Constitution.
If she runs, it would give strong momentum to Kibo no To in the election and even make her a prospective candidate to become the nation’s first female prime minister.
But in separate interviews published Tuesday by five major news outlets — Mainichi Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Jiji Press and Kyodo News — Koike categorically denied any intention to run for a Lower House seat in the Oct. 22 race.
Yomiuri quoted Koike as saying such a scenario is “100 percent impossible.”
Many political observers had suggested that Koike may quit as governor on Thursday, or the final day of the current session period of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. But Koike’s denial Tuesday has made that possibility look unlikely.
The official election campaign period starts on Oct. 10, when all the candidates must officially register their candidacy.
That leaves little time for political maneuvering by Koike before the deadline.
From the get-go, the Tokyo governor has rejected a possible Lower House run, emphasizing that she will dedicate herself to gubernatorial duties. But her denials have grown increasingly unequivocal over the past few days.
She told Jiji Press that she has “no intention” of reinstating herself into the Diet. She said her 24 years as a lawmaker taught her progress moves at a snail’s pace at the national level, and that she plans to make changes from Tokyo first.
The latest media polls suggest there is lackluster public support for Koike’s Kibo no To, another possible reason for her decision to sit out the election.
An NHK poll conducted from Friday through Sunday showed that 30.8 percent of the public support the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, versus 5.4 in favor of Kibo no To.
In what may have been a moment of inadvertent honesty, Lower House member Masaru Wakasa, a key Kibo no To member, blurted out in a televised debate Sunday that his party will aim to seize power in a general election after the Oct. 22 vote, suggesting his party is unlikely to beat Abe this time around.
In addition, Koike’s party may not be able to field enough candidates to win a majority in the Lower House in the first place, observers say.
A prime minister is chosen by the Lower House with support of more than half of the 465-seat chamber. To have a realistic chance to win a simple majority, a party must field far more than 233 candidates.
Since Prime Minister Abe suddenly dissolved the chamber on Sept. 28, that doesn’t give Kibo no To much time.
Koike has pledged to field at least 233 candidates, which leaves little margin for error.
“At this point, I don’t think she wants to run anymore,” Norihiko Narita, a professor emeritus of political science at Surugadai University, said.
“With just over 233 candidates in the pipeline, I think she realizes she can’t wrench power from Abe even if she runs,” the professor said.
Her decision not to seek a Lower House seat will most likely “significantly” reduce the number of seats Kibo no To wins in the election, Narita said.
“If she doesn’t seek a Diet seat, there is zero chance she will become prime minister even if her party beats the LDP. If that’s the case, voters will be confused as to whom exactly Abe is fighting against and why they should vote for Kibo no To.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga agrees.
“Koike hasn’t clarified yet whom she would pick as prime minister (if her party wins), and I think that’s very confusing for voters. If she truly thinks about the public, she should declare her candidacy and discuss policy head-on,” he said.
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