Tokyo governor Koike not contesting in upcoming election, vows to reset Japanese politics with new party

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo and head of the Party of Hope, during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday (Sept 27). PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (centre) poses with her party members during an inauguration press conference on her new political party, "Party of Hope", in Tokyo on Sept 27, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Wednesday (Sept 27) said she will not be contesting in the snap polls expected next month, as she formally launched a new party.

"I will face this battle as Tokyo governor," she told reporters at a news conference to announce the campaign platform of a new party she launched just this week.

Pledging a break with old-school politics, she said that the new party, Party of Hope, aims to "reset" Japanese politics by operating free from the influence of established interests, reported Kyodo news agency.

"Now is the time for us to carry out reforms that are untied to" vested interests, she told a nationally televised news conference.

Koike lamented that Japanese firms had lost their former glory, complaining that Chinese and American companies, like Amazon and Apple, "have become number one."

"The snap election is a chance to change," said the 65-year-old former anchorwoman, accusing the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of being too hesitant in its reform programme.

In a one-page policy platform, the new "Party of Hope" described itself as a "reformist conservative party." It said it would press ahead with a "realistic diplomacy and security policy based on pacifism," amid North Korea tensions, reported Agence France-Presse.

The party also pledged to promote diversity in a society where "both women and men can participate actively", as well as private sector innovation and "wise spending" of tax money.

Most commentators say Koike's new party, called the "Party of Hope", will not have enough time to mount a serious nationwide challenge to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before the snap vote expected on Oct 22.

Abe said on Monday he would dissolve parliament and call elections, hoping to capitalise on a weak and fractured opposition as well as a recent bump in the polls due to voter approval of his hard line on North Korea.

Surveys put him a long way ahead of his nearest rivals but Yoel Sano, Head of Global Political and Security Risk at BMI Research, said Koike's entry into the fray was a "major wild card."

Voters may view Abe's snap election as a "cynical and opportunistic move, especially given the severity of the North Korean crisis, which does not need the 'distraction' of an early election," Sano told Agence France-Presse.

Koike said Abe's decision to call a snap election had created a "political vacuum" at a time when tensions over North Korea are at fever pitch.

Koike herself has had to fend off criticism that there could be conflict of interests if she were to continue running the Japanese capital while leading a national party. She said that her involvement in national politics would work to Tokyo's advantage.

Koike defied the ruling LDP to run successfully for the Tokyo governorship a year ago and fielded candidates who routed the LDP in an election for the metropolitan assembly in July.

Her critics say that it would not be easy for Koike to balance national and local priorities, urging her to put forward someone else who could stand as prime minister should her party end up in a position to form a government, reported the Nikkei newspaper. But for Koike's supporters, having her at the helm is the main draw.

"It isn't easy wearing two hats," Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito, told reporters on Tuesday. "I would like to see Koike remain committed to her work as governor.

Takahiko Tanimura, Komeito's chief in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, said: "It's extremely disappointing to hear reports that she's using metropolitan politics as a mere stepping stone with other ends in mind."

The Tokyo governor on Wednesday said she herself would not seek a seat in parliament's lower house now.

On Monday she called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision to call a snap election "questionable" at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea.

"What does that mean for the country's ability to manage a crisis?" she asked.

Some in the ruling bloc have asked the same question, leaving the Abe government scrambling to assure them and the public that everything is under control.

"The government isn't dissolving," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday.

"We're ready to respond 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," he said, adding that he and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera would stay in Tokyo during the campaign to deal with the North Korean situation.

Mr Abe, however, plans hold rallies across the country when campaigning kicks off sometime around Oct 10.

While a government source assured that Japan "has a pretty good handle on what North Korea is doing," having the prime minister away from the capital could complicate a rapid response to further provocations, reported Nikkei Asian Review.

The Nikkei said Koike met Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara on Tuesday to discuss the possible merger, which could also include another small opposition party.

The Democratic Party (DP) on Tuesday saw five of its planned candidates in the upcoming general election resign from the opposition party to join Japanese newest political party, reported Jiji Press.

Their resignations dealt a further blow to the DP leadership, which is struggling to maintain party unity while exploring the possibility of cooperating with Party of Hope in the upcoming election.

The days-old Party of Hope has just a few weeks to prepare its candidates with the aim of fielding 100 contestants.

Standing alongside lawmakers who joined the fledgling Party of Hope, Koike said on Wednesday the "tolerant, reform-minded conservative party" will field as many candidates as possible nationwide in next month's election.

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