Populist’s party heads for win in Tokyo
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!”