Pop­ulist’s party heads for win in Tokyo

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - MARI YA­M­AGUCHI

TOKYO — The new party of the Ja­panese cap­i­tal’s pop­ulist governor headed for a vic­tory Sun­day over Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s rul­ing party in a Tokyo as­sem­bly elec­tion.

Gov. Yuriko Koike’s Toky­oites First party won 49 of the 127 as­sem­bly seats, or all but one of the can­di­dates it fielded, Ja­panese tele­vi­sion sta­tions re­ported Sun­day evening af­ter the vot­ing ended.

Abe’s Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party, mean­while, took a beat­ing for re­cent scan­dals and an in­creas­ingly crit­i­cized ap­proach to pol­i­tics. The Lib­eral Democrats, the con­ser­va­tive party that has held power al­most con­tin­u­ously since the 1950s, won only 23 seats — down from its cur­rent 57, and even fewer than its pre­vi­ous record low of 38 seats set in 1995 and 2009, ac­cord­ing to na­tional broad­caster NHK. The party fielded 60 can­di­dates.

Koike’s Toky­oites First party and the Komei party, its new ally and the Lib­eral Democrats’ long­time coali­tion part­ner in par­lia­ment, to­gether se­cured 72 seats, com­fort­ably ex­ceed­ing the ma­jor­ity of the as­sem­bly, mak­ing it eas­ier for Koike to push through her political agenda. All of Komei’s 23 can­di­dates won.

For Abe, the re­sults mean it will be more dif­fi­cult for him to achieve his goals — to stay as prime min­is­ter un­til the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and to achieve his long-cher­ished re­vi­sion to the con­sti­tu­tion. The doc­u­ment, which was drafted af­ter World War II by a U.S.led oc­cu­pa­tion force, re­nounces war and the use of force to set­tle in­ter­na­tional dis­putes. Abe at least wants the con­sti­tu­tion changed to clar­ify the le­gal­ity of the coun­try’s mil­i­tary, the Self-De­fense Force.

Al­though of­fi­cial re­sults were not ex­pected un­til to­day, Koike de­clared vic­tory as she dec­o­rated the names of her party’s pro­jected win­ners on a white board with flower-shaped rib­bons in the shade of green — her sig­na­ture color.

“We are certain to be­come the lead­ing party” in the as­sem­bly, she said, adding that the re­sults had ex­ceeded her ex­pec­ta­tions. “I be­lieve our poli­cies from the per­spec­tive of the Tokyo res­i­dents won a man­date from vot­ers.”

Shigeru Ishiba, a se­nior Lib­eral Demo­cratic law­maker seen as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to Abe, called the re­sults a “his­toric de­feat” for the party. “The re­sults un­der­scored that not many Tokyo res­i­dents thought the [Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party] was mod­est and sin­cere,” Ishiba said.

The re­sult of the Tokyo as­sem­bly elec­tion has in the past set the tone for na­tional elec­tions. Koike is ru­mored to be eye­ing a re­turn to par­lia­ment to run for prime min­is­ter.

A for­mer TV news­caster, Koike be­came Tokyo’s first fe­male leader last sum­mer and drew at­ten­tion for re­peat­edly clash­ing with the male-dom­i­nated city gov­ern­ment. She por­trayed the Lib­eral Demo­crat-dom­i­nated as­sem­bly as a place of murky pol­i­tics run by an old boys’ club that is in­ter­fer­ing with her agenda, in­clud­ing cost-cut­ting of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Koike, 64, had shifted par­ties un­til set­tling with the Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party in 2002 and since held key party and Cabi­net posts, in­clud­ing de­fense min­is­ter. She an­gered party se­niors when she abruptly ran for Tokyo governor last year, but did not of­fi­cially leave the party un­til last month to head her own. She keeps friendly re­la­tions with Abe.

Abe had long en­joyed sta­ble ap­proval rat­ings since tak­ing of­fice in 2012, but he and his party have been hit by a se­ries of scan­dals in re­cent months.

Most re­cently, De­fense Min­is­ter To­momi Inada was grilled over her re­mark at an elec­tion rally for a Lib­eral Demo­crat can­di­date for a city of­fice. Inada asked that her min­istry and the Self-De­fense Force sup­port the can­di­date — an endorsement that was seen as violating laws stip­u­lat­ing neu­tral­ity of civil ser­vants and the mil­i­tary.

Abe is also em­broiled in his own scan­dal, in which he is ac­cused of hav­ing in­flu­enced an ap­proval of a school run by his friend. He has re­peat­edly de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and has re­jected calls from op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers and civil groups for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion or to pro­vide fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion in par­lia­ment.

In a speech in Tokyo on Wed­nes­day, Abe apol­o­gized for the an­gry ex­changes over scan­dals, and vowed to fight on. “A cas­tle that takes three years to build can be de­stroyed in a day,” he said.

Through­out the Tokyo as­sem­bly elec­tion cam­paign, Abe stayed be­hind the scenes. On Satur­day, when he made his first ap­pear­ance dur­ing a street rally, he faced a big crowd that yelled “Step down Abe!”

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