With Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's launch of the national political party Kibo no To -- meaning "party of hope" -- the usual framework of general elections has been turned upside down and inside out.
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Koike says that in the upcoming House of Representatives election, her party will field candidates across the country who can capture the hearts and votes of voters who are critical of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
All along, Koike had made it seem as though she was leaving it up to lower house lawmakers Masaru Wakasa and Goshi Hosono to take care of national politics on her behalf. But as soon as Abe announced his intention to dissolve the lower house and call a general election, she took the bold step of establishing a new political party, placing herself at the helm.
Koike held an emergency press conference on the same day as Abe's, in which he announced his plan to dissolve the lower chamber, and surprised us with the dramatic plot of a sitting governor taking the top position of a new political party. It was a brilliant media strategy, something that could only be pulled off because of Koike's gumption and her good instincts for the game of politics.
Interest in the general election has risen as a result, and voters have undoubtedly been left with the impression that they have new options to choose from in the lower house polls.
In the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election that was held in early July, the opposition Democratic Party (DP) failed to capture the support of Tokyo voters who were unhappy with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), leading to an overwhelming victory for Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), which was headed by Koike during the election period. There's a chance that Kibo no To will serve the same function in the general election, taking in the votes of those who are unhappy with the Abe administration, but do not have allegiances to specific political parties.
However, we cannot accept a new party whose policies and principles are unclear.
Koike has thus far said that the pillars of her new party's policies comprise such things as "politics of hope," "a society of hope" and "an economy of hope" -- which are all very vague. It's also unclear what "reform-minded conservatism," which Koike cited as her party's leading principle, means.
Cutting back the number of legislators and slashing legislators' paychecks, which Koike raised as specific policies her new party intended to implement, have been advocated by many parties in the past. Add to that her argument for a freeze on consumption tax hikes without a discussion about the relationship between fiscal rehabilitation and social spending, and her rise has the telltale signs of a populist phenomenon.
The LDP is hopeful that Kibo no To will cooperate with the ruling party on constitutional amendment, but Koike has been critical of Abe's proposal to explicitly state the existence of the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution. She has also criticized "Abenomics," Abe's economic policy mix. By also calling for the elimination of nuclear power plants, Koike and her party are trying to clearly set themselves apart from the LDP.
After the election is over, will Kibo no To be an opposition party or will it try to become a part of the ruling coalition? Koike touched on the possibility that legislators from her new party would vote for Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi to become prime minister. This may just have been Koike paying lip service to Komeito, which collaborated with Tomin First no Kai in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. But such an issue is not to be taken lightly, as Koike has by bringing Tokyo politics into national politics.
Understandably the founding of Kibo no To was rushed, since news that Abe would dissolve the lower house and call a snap election came so suddenly. But the party needs to systematically explain to voters what it aims to accomplish. If it's going to keep operating merely on image, it's not being responsible.