World Bulletin / News Desk
Koike officially launched her Party of Hope on Wednesday, pitting her against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now in his fifth year as premier but dogged by scandals and mediocre (though rising) public approval ratings.
The question is whether Koike can duplicate the astonishing success of her 2016 race for governor, where she humiliated Abe by winning nearly all of the seats she contested in the metropolitan assembly for her then-named Tokyo First party.
It is widely believed Abe called a snap election for Oct. 22 in part to make it difficult for the new party to get organized. With official campaigning to begin Oct. 10, Koike has only about two weeks to find candidates, raise money and do all of the other political chores that go with electioneering.
In a news conference Koike pledged to “re-set” Japanese politics. “We will take on drastic changes where necessary,” she said. However she did not elaborate on what those changes might be.
Her party did issue a six-point platform for the upcoming campaign, though it is filled with somewhat vague promises such as greater transparency in open government and the people’s “right to know.” Such general pledges, however, have worked well in Tokyo elections.
Koike calls herself the party’s “Chief Representative” rather than actual leader. For the moment, she does not plan to run for a seat in parliament herself. She would have to resign as governor, and may feel that this would be a break with her base.
Whether this style is viable on a national level remains to be seen. It is too early for political polling. However, in the most recent Nikkei poll, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party stood at 44 percent compared with a dismal eight percent for the official opposition Democratic Party.
Up until she threw her hat in the ring, Koike has had almost nothing to say about national issues, such as the North Korean missile threats, reform of the imperial family or amending the constitution.
By way of contrast, the prime minister just laid out a very specific proposal for diverting money from a scheduled rise in the national sales tax next year to support kindergartens and spend more on childcare, issues obviously aimed at female voters.
The governor is generally thought to be nearly as conservative on national issues as Abe. She was Abe’s security advisor during his first term as premier (2006-2007), and briefly served as the country’s first woman defense minister.
Koike has attracted a few big names to her party such as Goshi Hosono, former secretary-general of the Democratic Party, and she will undoubtedly steal more. Meanwhile, the new Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara has his hands full trying to prevent more defections.