Japan election: Stage set for Abe-Koike showdown

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (left) and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike with Kibo No To (Party Of Hope) members.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (left) and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike with Kibo No To (Party Of Hope) members.PHOTOS: REUTERS
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike with Kibo No To (Party Of Hope) members, including former environment minister Goshi Hosono (left), during a news conference yesterday to announce the party's campaign platform. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre) with members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party during the annual party convention in March this year.PHOTO: REUTERS
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike with Kibo No To (Party Of Hope) members, including former environment minister Goshi Hosono (left), during a news conference yesterday to announce the party's campaign platform. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre)
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike with Kibo No To (Party Of Hope) members, including former environment minister Goshi Hosono (left), during a news conference yesterday to announce the party's campaign platform. PHOTO: REUTERS

Koike to lead new party in snap polls but won't run for House seat

The stage is set for a battle royale between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his former ally, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, with Parliament to be dissolved today for a snap election likely to be next month.

The telegenic Ms Koike, 65, said on Monday in a surprise announcement that she would be helming the new national Kibo No To (Party Of Hope), rather than playing just a supporting role in its formation.

She followed this up yesterday by spelling out the platform of her new party, pledging to stump on behalf of its candidates, but without running for a seat herself.

"I will face this battle as Tokyo Governor," the maverick politician told a news conference, vowing to stay on as chief of Japan's sprawling capital and oversee its preparations for the 2020 Olympic Games.

This laid to rest the rumour that she would run for one of the 465 seats in the upcoming Lower House election that is widely expected on Oct 22.

Ms Koike, a former defence minister handpicked for the role by Mr Abe 10 years ago, was an eight-term Lower House lawmaker until July last year when she stepped down to run for the post of Tokyo governor in defiance of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The main national opposition Democratic Party (DP), meanwhile, is reportedly seeking a merger with Kibo No To, as it languishes in support and continues to haemorrhage members. Five potential candidates jumped ship on Tuesday to join the new party, prompting emergency talks between DP leader Seiji Maehara and Ms Koike.

A marriage of convenience could splinter the DP, which despite its left-leaning platform comprises a hodgepodge of liberals and conservatives. Some DP members have said it might be better to disband the party, whose toxic reputation stems from its disunity and botched rule from 2009 to 2012.

KOIKE VERSUS ABE

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike described Kibo No To as the "tolerant, centrist, reform-minded" alternative to the LDP, promising to pursue politics clean of vested interests in a bid to "reset" Japan. Despite the party being only days old, she hopes to field at least 100 candidates nationwide. She also pledged reforms that can re-establish Japan's status as a global leader.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks set to roll out a populist campaign manifesto centred on social security measures, tapping increased revenue from a slated tax hike from 8 per cent to 10 per cent in October 2019, which will pump five trillion yen (S$60.2 billion) into government coffers.

But domestic media reported yesterday that prospects for a merger were unlikely, given Ms Koike's conservative ideology.

She yesterday described Kibo No To as the "tolerant, centrist, reform-minded" alternative to the LDP, promising to pursue politics clean of vested interests in a bid to "reset" Japan. Despite the party being only days old, she hopes to field at least 100 candidates nationwide.

 

She also pledged reforms that can re-establish Japan's status as a global leader. A World Economic Forum report of 137 nations yesterday showed Japan slipping one position in the global competitiveness league. It came in ninth, to Singapore's third.

Mr Abe looks set to roll out a populist campaign manifesto centred on social security measures, tapping increased revenue from a slated tax hike from 8 per cent to 10 per cent in October 2019, which will pump five trillion yen (S$60.2 billion) into government coffers.

Mr Abe has framed the election as a referendum on how the additional revenue will be used.

His original plan was to devote 80 per cent of the sum towards repaying government debt and the remainder to social security, but he now wants a 50-50 split.

Ms Koike, however, yesterday proposed a further delay to the tax hike until Japan's economy - which grew 1 per cent last year - gains sustainable momentum.

The tax hike had been first slated for October 2015, but was put off until April this year and then delayed again until the current 2019 date.

But with Japan's mounting government debt at 230 per cent of its gross domestic product, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a daily news briefing yesterday: "It is irresponsible to discuss the promotion of bold policies without financial resources."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Stage set for Abe-Koike showdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe