Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Will Yuriko Koike Aim for the Premiership?
KURASHIGE Atsuro / Journalist

May 16, 2017
Just how high is Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike determined to go? That is currently the prevailing question in Nagatacho, the political center of Japan.

Koike’s next moves are predictable to some degree up through the election for the 127-seat Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, slated for July 2. Having launched a regional political group called Tomin Fasuto no Kai (Tokyo Citizens First)—effectively her own party—Koike will field candidates in all 42 districts. In recent news, the group announced that it had agreed with Komeito, the second largest party in the assembly, to support each other’s candidates with an eye to securing a single-party majority.

The Tokyo Citizens First group already had 59 seats within reach prior to the agreement. Now that it can count on Komeito votes in districts lacking Komeito candidates, achieving the minimum target of 64 seats has become more than a pipe dream. Koike’s party is almost certain to gain power in the metropolitan assembly overall, even if it falls short of a majority. This will give the governor the footing she needs to forge ahead with the metropolitan government reforms that she called for in her gubernatorial campaign of July 2016.

The real question is whether Koike will content herself with the position of Tokyo governor or seek to use that experience as a steppingstone to the office of prime minister. Koike has spent much of her political career in national politics. In addition to having 24 years as a lawmaker under her belt, she has served as minister of the environment, minister of defense, and chairperson of the Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, as well as running once for LDP president. She has the right credentials to make the bid.

Moreover, Koike has three strengths that she can draw on should she decide to run for the premiership. The first is her capacity to break through and to mobilize empathy—a trait that she takes from former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Her solo stand against the all-powerful LDP grabbed the hearts of many Tokyoites.

Koike’s second strength is “real politics power,” which she learned from Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa. Ideals alone will not get politicians anywhere; they must explore every avenue to extend the influence of their own party. Jointly backing candidates with the Komeito is one such tactic.

Having the religious group Soka Gakkai as its parent organization, the Komeito commands 7 million votes nationwide. The first (non-Komeito) politician to leverage that clout was Ichiro Ozawa. In the 1990s Ozawa invited the Komeito to join a non-LDP coalition government and, soon thereafter, brought about its merger into a new party called the New Frontier Party. The LDP later poached the Komeito from this alliance and formed the current LDP-Komeito coalition.

And now, Koike’s group and the Komeito have decided to jointly back candidates. This arrangement is thus far limited to the metropolitan assembly election. But if the plan turns out to be a success the partnership could spill over to national politics, those at the LDP headquarters fear. Under the present circumstances, losing the boosting power of Komeito votes would be a fatal blow to the LDP. For Koike, meanwhile, such an accomplishment would give her a potent card for when she makes a comeback to national politics.

Koike’s third strong suit is her inborn pluck and keen judgment. She has built an extensive network through her successive affiliation with five different parties: the Japan New Party, New Frontier Party, Liberal Party, Conservative Party, and Liberal Democratic Party. In 2005, when Prime Minister Koizumi dissolved the House of Representatives and called a general election over the issue of privatizing the postal services, Koike was the first to offer herself as one of Koizumi’s “assassins”—candidates fielded to defeat LDP members opposing postal privatization. She proceeded to score a landslide victory despite being a parachute candidate. Both Ozawa and Koizumi have lavished praised on Koike, calling her “shrewd” and commending her sense of politics and nerve.

The governor does, however, face the challenge of a ticking clock. She will turn 65 in July. Supposing that—for reasons of physical and mental strength—the years until she reaches 70 will be critical for her career trajectory, Koike will need to make her move on national politics within the next five years. And if she serves a full term as governor of Tokyo, that will shave off another few years.

Even so, my prognosis is that Koike will take the plunge. Given her current standing and the trump cards at her disposal, I doubt she would pass up the opportunity to win the seat of prime minister. Timing will be key: First there is the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election. If that goes as planned, Koike’s focus will shift to the next snap election of the lower house, which is certain to take place by December 2018. She could either lead her own party into the election or launch her own faction within the LDP. Until she reaches that juncture, Koike faces the task of solidifying her foothold on the national political scene one step at a time in Ozawa style while at the same time enlisting public support a la Koizumi. And right now, she seems capable of doing just that.

Atsuro Kurashige is Expert Senior Writer at Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

倉重篤郎 / ジャーナリスト

2017年 5月 16日












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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Will Yuriko Koike Aim for the Premiership?