Koike to step down as Party of Hope chief

The Straits Times - - ASIA - Wal­ter Sim Ja­pan Cor­re­spon­dent In Tokyo

Ms Yuriko Koike has said she will step down as leader of op­po­si­tion party Kibo no To (Party of Hope) to con­cen­trate on her du­ties as gov­er­nor of Tokyo.

Kibo no To, which suf­fered a chastis­ing de­feat at last month’s gen­eral elec­tion, will be led by four-term Lower House law­maker Yuichiro Ta­maki, 48.

Ms Koike, who founded the party early last month, said yes­ter­day: “I’d like to leave national af­fairs in the hands of our party law­mak­ers and so will give up my po­si­tion as party leader. But I will con­tinue to sup­port the party in an ap­pro­pri­ate man­ner.”

She will fo­cus on her du­ties as gov­er­nor of Tokyo – a sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis larger than Sin­ga­pore, and with a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 14 mil­lion – in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games.

Ms Koike will be in Sin­ga­pore for a three-day visit from to­day as part of the Lee Kuan Yew Ex­change Fel­low­ship pro­gramme, which in­vites out­stand­ing in­di­vid­u­als for high- level vis­its. Her res­ig­na­tion came just five days af­ter Mr Ta­maki, for­merly of the Demo­cratic Party (DP), was elected co-leader at a party cau­cus last week.

In the Oct 22 elec­tion, Kibo no To fielded 235 can­di­dates and won just 50 seats, seven seats fewer than what it had in the Lower House be­fore the vote.

It did not be­come the largest op­po­si­tion force in the Lower House, ced­ing that hon­our to the newer Con­sti­tu­tional Demo­cratic Party of Ja­pan (CDP), which fielded 78 can­di­dates and won 55 seats.

Kibo no To was formed with much fan­fare. But the ini­tial roar soon turned into a whim­per, as pub­lic trust was quickly eroded by Ms Koike’s per­ceived ar­ro­gance and her party’s vague pop­ulist pol­icy prom­ises. A pub­lic sur­vey by broad­caster NHK on Mon­day showed only 3.2 per cent of re­spon­dents sup­ported Kibo no To – down 2.2 per­cent­age points from the pre­vi­ous sur­vey con­ducted a week be­fore the elec­tion.

The rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) had the sup­port of 37.1 per cent of re­spon­dents, up 4.3 points, and the CDP was sup­ported by 9.6 per cent, up three points.

Ms Koike has, since be­ing elected gov­er­nor in July last year, por­trayed her­self as a Joan of Arc tak­ing on the grey elite of Ja­pan’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. She was once a mem­ber of the LDP, and is a for­mer en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter and the coun­try’s first fe­male de­fence min­is­ter.

She formed Kibo no To as a right- wing op­po­si­tion to the LDP, although both par­ties have sim­i­lar hawk­ish ide­olo­gies, dif­fer­ing only on is­sues such as tax and nu­clear pol­icy. She de­clined to step down as Tokyo gov­er­nor to run for a Lower House seat.

Mr Ta­maki, who rep­re­sents the No. 2 dis­trict in Ka­gawa pre­fec­ture, is aligned with Ms Koike’s vi­sion of a con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion and a more ac­tive mil­i­tary.

“We are a tol­er­ant, con­ser­va­tive, re­formist party,” the Nikkei quoted him as say­ing last week on his elec­tion as party leader.

He also re­jected any pos­si­bil­ity of an al­liance with for­mer DP mem­bers who are now with the CDP, say­ing this was counter-pro­duc­tive.

Dr Sota Kato, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for pol­icy re­search at the Tokyo Foun­da­tion think-tank, told The Straits Times that Ms Koike will face an up­hill bat­tle to re­gain the trust of vot­ers in Tokyo, where her party was roundly beaten.

“This was a tac­ti­cal move,” he said. “She recog­nises that the only way to re­gain her cred­i­bil­ity and pop­u­lar­ity is to achieve some eye­grab­bing suc­cesses as gov­er­nor. I ex­pect her to keep a low pro­file for a while and fo­cus on her job, while wait­ing for an­other chance.”

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ms Yuriko Koike speak­ing to re­porters af­ter say­ing she will step down as leader of Party of Hope in Tokyo yes­ter­day. Ms Koike will be in Sin­ga­pore for a three-day visit from to­day as part of the Lee Kuan Yew Ex­change Fel­low­ship pro­gramme.

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