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The answer is no. Period.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Thursday once again denied that she will run in a Lower House general election later this month, giving what appeared to be a final answer amid brewing speculation. On the final day of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly’s session, attention was focused on Koike’s comments on rumored — but often denied — plans to return to national politics.

Declaring her candidacy while the session was still open would have exposed her to a volley of criticism. Therefore, speculation had been rife that she would wait until the session was over to make a surprise announcement.

This pointed denial would make it difficult to perform a flip-flop in the next several days to Tuesday, when those wishing to run in the Oct. 22 poll must register.

If Koike had decided to throw her hat into the ring, she would have been a strong contender to replace Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and become the first woman to take the post.

But Koike reiterated her intention in a meeting with Seiji Maehara, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, at a Tokyo hotel.

Koike said Maehara has enthusiastically asked her to run, but that her decision has been made. “As I’ve said repeatedly from the get-go, I have no intention to (run),” she said.

But her absence from the race will leave voters in the dark as to whom Kibo no To (Party of Hope) wants to field to replace Abe as prime minister if they win a majority in the 465-member Lower House. Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have already called her refusal to join the race “irresponsible.”

To stave off such criticism, Koike said she will discuss naming a leader with the founding members of Kibo no To, but refused to specify a timeline.

“I still think Koike is the best possible candidate,” Maehara said after the meeting.

Last week, Maehara agreed with Koike that the DP won’t field any candidates in the upcoming election and would instead encourage its lawmakers to seek endorsement from Kibo no To.

But ever since its establishment last week, the new party has been dogged by controversy. It has no proper party-wide decision-making entity, giving Koike what appears to be unchallenged power. Her public declaration that she will screen DP members considered too left-leaning has raised eyebrows, too.

In the latest example, leaked copies have emerged of a contract of sorts DP members have reportedly been forced to sign before joining Kibo no To. In it, they were asked to stand by the party’s policies, including not granting foreign residents the right to vote or run for local elections.

“I myself have long argued that foreign residents in Japan should be granted such rights,” Maehara said.

“But I’m also aware of concerns that a mass influx of non-Japanese into remote islands of Okinawa or Nagasaki, for example, could lead to local offices being overrun by foreigners, or their administrative process being distorted if the non-Japanese were given suffrage there … And I do think such concerns merit due consideration,” he added, emphasizing that Kibo no To’s policy does not contradict his traditional stance on the matter.

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