Koike’s latest dramatic exit expected to damage her reputation and Kibo no To further

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

It was like deja vu: Rank-and-file members of Kibo no To (Party of Hope), the nation’s second largest opposition party, had been kept in the dark until the very last minute.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike suddenly announced Tuesday her resignation as the party’s president, shocking party members and drawing strong criticism from the public.

This is the second time she has abruptly abandoned the top position of a new party she herself established. She quit as the head of Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) on July 3, just a day after the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, saying she would like to concentrate on her job as governor.

Koike’s resignation this time is particularly damaging for her reputation as a political leader, as she made the decision at a time when the party is struggling in the wake of its crushing defeat in the Oct. 22 Lower House election. The loss has led to internal strife between pro- and anti-Koike members.

Observers say that Kibo no To could eventually break up without Koike’s leadership, and a senior party executive speaking on condition of anonymity admitted that such a scenario is possible.

“This is the second time Ms. Koike has quit as the representative of a party in less than six months,” read an editorial in Wednesday’s edition of the national daily Asahi Shimbun.

“We are concerned that repeated formation of a new party and resignation of its leader will further deepen people’s distrust in politics and parties,” the editorial argued.

Koike was widely known for her ambition to become the nation’s first female prime minister. But her second resignation as a party leader has made what were already small odds even smaller.

Kibo no To had been seen as a potential threat to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party when Koike proudly declared its launch on Sept. 25.

Voters enthusiastically supported Koike, the first female governor of Tokyo, believing she was a fresh, nonmainstream politician challenging the current political establishment — particularly the LDP.

However, the former TV newscaster’s popularity rapidly shrank as she tried to exclude liberal opposition lawmakers from Kibo no To and even hinted the party may eventually tie up with Abe’s party after the election.

In this way Koike lost the sympathy of swing voters wishing for a fresh, nonestablishment leader. The result of the Oct. 22 vote was devastating for the governor.

Kibo no To fielded as many as 235 candidates, but only 50 won a seat.

Most of the winners had migrated from the Democratic Party, another opposition party, many of whom Koike appears to have found difficult to control. Some even called for her resignation days after the Oct. 22 election.

“I think it was inevitable for her to make the decision to step down,” said Tokyo Metropolitan Assemblyman Shun Otokita, a former member of Tomin First and close aide to the governor, in a TV program aired by the Fuji Television Network on Wednesday. “She would be criticized for whatever decision she may make right now.”

She was fated to be criticized for abandoning her responsibility as the party founder if she were to quit, but if she had stayed as the Kibo no To leader, she would have been bashed for not fully committing to her job as the governor, Otokita said.

“She was forced to choose which criticism she would face,” Otokita said. “She chose her job as governor.”

In fact, Koike now faces a mountain of difficult tasks at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

More than a year after her gubernatorial election, Koike has yet to make good on her campaign promises such as carrying out major reforms or engineering the successful relocation of the world-famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Elsewhere, Koike’s attempt to challenge Abe’s LDP-Komeito coalition in the Oct. 22 vote prompted Komeito to withdraw its support for her Tomin First party in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

As a result, Tomin First has lost majority control of the 127-seat chamber, and will find it difficult to see the governor’s budget proposals and ordinances passed through the assembly.

Tomin First has 53 seats in the assembly, followed by Komeito with 23 and the LDP with 22.

“It’s true the situation is now rather different from the framework (Koike) had anticipated in the beginning” when she launched Kibo no To, said Masaru Wakasa, a former Lower House member and a key aide to Koike, in the same Fuji TV program aired on Wednesday.

“In this situation, she can’t concentrate on Tokyo affairs unless she withdraws (from national politics) for now,” he added.