Two opposition parties launched less than a month ago to challenge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party met contrasting fates in Sunday’s general election.
Yukio Edano’s Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) appeared on track to become the nation’s largest opposition party, exit polls showed, while Kibo no To (Party of Hope), led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, braced for a painful change in fortunes as it looked to settle for third place despite a strong start in the campaign.
A loud cheer went up at 8 p.m. at the Tokyo hotel where the CDP set up camp when the first exit polls came in. NHK projected the party could be looking at 44 to 67 seats, a significant leap from the 15 it held prior to the race. That was also more than the 38 to 59 seats projected for Kibo no To.
“I believe our call to change top-down politics resonated with voters,” Edano said.
The sudden rise of the CDP took many politicians and pundits by surprise.
When Abe brashly called the snap election last month, Koike had appeared to unite the opposition as she opened the door for a tie-up with the struggling Democratic Party. But the plan turned highly divisive when she imposed an ideological test on the new entrants, keeping out the party’s more left-leaning members and effectively prompting Edano to form his own party.
His decision to launch a one-man fight when many of his fellow DP members were lured to run on the Koike’s conservative Kibo no To ticket appeared to resonate with voters jaded by the former broadcaster’s populist politics.
Formed on Oct. 2, the CDP launched an effective social media campaign that quickly grew a large Twitter following that eclipsed those of Kibo no To and even the LDP.
As the campaign wrapped up, Edano’s rallies drew crowds by the hundreds and thousands in the Tokyo area despite drizzling rain brought by an approaching typhoon.
Edano attacked what he labeled as widening inequality under the Abe administration and positioned his party as a symbol of what he described as grass-roots democracy. The strategy appears to have succeeded in scooping up voters looking for a liberal alternative to the conservative-leaning LDP and Kibo no To.
For Koike, however, the poll shows how support for what she called “reformist conservative” policies did not live up to her hopes.
Speaking at a gathering at a Tokyo hotel as the results flowed in, leading members of Kibo no To repeated that the Lower House election was “a difficult start” for the new party, formed only a month ago.
Kibo no To’s bleak outcome was symbolized by the defeat of Masaru Wakasa, the close Koike aide who was instrumental to the party’s founding.
Speaking to reporters Sunday in Paris, where she was attending a climate conference, Koike called the results as disappointing.
Shinji Tarutoko, a DP defector, said the party would stick to its current path.
“We formed a reformist conservative party that is not left- or right-leaning,” he said, adding that despite the difficulties, the party would continue to follow its founding principles.
Launched Sept. 27 by Koike, who promised to “reset” Japan and restore its international prestige, Kibo no To was at first anticipated to become the largest threat to Abe’s ruling bloc.
Last month, DP chief Seiji Maehara effectively disbanded the Lower House caucus of Japan’s main opposition force, and asked all candidates to leave the party to run on the Kibo no To ticket. According to reports, 117 out of a total of 235 Kibo no To candidates announced by Oct. 10 were those who joined from the DP.
However, with Koike’s decision to block all left-leaning DP members, Edano established his own party — the CDP — and was joined by ex-DP heavyweights such as former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and former minister of economy Banri Kaieda, while other DP bigwigs, including Yoshihiko Noda and Katsuya Okada ran as independents.
According to media reports, Koike apologized for her decision to exclude those left-leaning DP members.
The CDP had gained a following thanks in part to Edano’s relatable speeches, while Kibo no To was often criticized over its populist election pledges.
Of the election pledges were the “12 Zeros,” which included outlandish promises such as “zero pollen allergies,” and “zero jam-packed commuter trains.”
Koike had given no explanation how her party would achieve or finance these.
Moreover, amid a backlash against Koike over her flirtation with national politics, the Tokyo governor decided not to run in the election, saying she would put priority on her current job of running the capital.
During the event, Tarutoko and fellow DP refugee Goshi Hosono said a meeting wold be held after Koike returned on Wednesday to potentially re-arrange the party’s structure after its poor performance.
“We will face the results, and continue to move forward,” Tarutoko said.