Thousands of people have signed up for political seminars in a school being launched by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike that could be seen as groundwork for a new political party.
The school, called "Kibo no Juku" (academy of hope), is to launch on Oct. 30. Over 4,500 applicants are set to attend its seminars -- the latest demonstration of Koike's popularity.
The seminars are to include instruction about elections, in what some observers see as preparation for a new political party under Koike ahead of next summer's Metropolitan Assembly election. While Koike has avoided talking about forming such a party, an insider familiar with the school says, "We will make preparations to switch gears (to election mode) at any time."
The school's doors were opened to applicants on Sept. 29, and applications began streaming in from around the country, far exceeding the 1,000 to 1,500 people initially expected. Since not all of them can be accommodated at the seminar venue at once, the seminar was divided into four classes. Applicants were accepted even if they belonged to existing political parties. Among those who have applied are metropolitan and ward assembly members as well as people in vocations ranging from lawyers to doctors to company workers. There are also many women among the applicants.
The first teacher of the seminars, scheduled to talk about municipal self-governance, will be Toshima Ward Mayor Yukio Takano, who supported Koike during her run for governor. The first season of seminars will be held through March next year, at a pace of one per month. Attendees will be asked to submit reports. Those who cannot visit the seminars in person will still be able to view video recordings of them.
Attention is focused on whether the school will lead to the creation of a new party. Koike says the school is "A place for people who want to learn politics, a place of learning. They are no more and no less," and has not spoken about what lies ahead.
However, seminar participation emails sent to applicants included questionnaires about whether they wanted to run for office and for which type of election they wanted to run.
Furthermore, a source with the organizing office clearly stated that the seminars would be held "on the basis of uncovering candidates for a new party and training them."
There exist views that the House of Representatives by-election for the Tokyo No. 10 constituency has given strength to the movement to form a new party. It was initially predicted that Masaru Wakasa, the political successor of Koike, would defeat his Democratic Party opponent by nearly three times. However, voter turnout was only 34.85 percent -- 18.71 points below the 53.56 percent in the last House of Representatives election in December 2014 -- and Wakasa obtained less than double the votes of his opponent. People close to Koike advised that Wakasa running with the official endorsement of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) drove away independent voters, giving momentum to the move to form a new party.
One person close to Koike says, "It is Koike's decision whether to form a new party or not, but I think she will put forward candidates in next summer's Metropolitan Assembly election, primarily from among the seminar students. If enough of them are elected, they will gain control of the assembly."