Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, launched the Party of Hope on September 26, hours before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a snap election scheduled for October 22. Her new party will pose a likely threat to Abe’s incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the upcoming election.
Abe called for an early general election to take advantage of his high approval ratings after his handling of the North Korean nuclear crisis. He hopes to consolidate his power in order to revise Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist constitution, which would allow greater flexibility for Japan to respond to military threats.
Koike, who resigned from the center-right LDP earlier this year, has branded her party as a fresh alternative to the LDP, which has been in power for most of Japan’s postwar history. Many also view her party as an alternative to Abe, who was accused of various scandals and criticized for pushing an anti-conspiracy bill. As a result, her new Party of Hope will likely pose a serious threat to Abe, who has been in power for five years.
However, despite being the leader of her new party, Koike stated that she would only campaign for her party’s candidates and clarified in a press conference on October 3 that “since the beginning, I’ve said that I’m 100 percent not running as a candidate.”
Upon launching the Party of Hope, Koike promised to “reset” Japan and to bring numerous reforms to better prepare the country for international competition. In a news conference, she said, “We will take on drastic changes where necessary.”
Some of the important reforms her party has promised include economic and welfare reform, female empowerment in the workplace, better preparations for natural disasters, and scale-backs of nuclear power. However, her party aligns with the conservative LDP in certain policy areas, such as constitutional revision.
The emergence of Koike’s party is leading to a realignment of political parties in the upcoming elections. The Party of Hope appeals to not only conservative reformists but also to many right-leaning members of the center-left Democratic Party, which until recently constituted the main opposition in the Japanese Diet (parliament). As a result, the Democratic Party was disbanded, and its remaining members created the Constitutional Democratic Party as the main center-left party in the upcoming election.
Koike previously challenged the LDP when her Tomin First Party defeated the LDP in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election this past summer. Koike’s victory came as a shock, as she had only established the party earlier in the year. Many see the disappointing results of the LDP as a sign of Tokyoites’ disapproval of Abe.
If the LDP fails to retain a majority in the upcoming national election, it is likely that Abe may resign as prime minister.