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Koike's victory in Tokyo governor race a defeat for political parties

The victory of former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike in the July 31 Tokyo gubernatorial election represents a clear defeat for both ruling and opposition parties.

Hiroya Masuda, fielded by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito, and Shuntaro Torigoe, backed jointly by four opposition parties -- including the Democratic Party (DP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) -- lost to Koike, who received the backing of no political party.

The ruling bloc will face the challenge of mending its relations with Koike, a member of the LDP. There are concerns within the LDP that the split in the election could adversely affect its outcome in a House of Representatives by-election in the Tokyo No. 10 constituency in October. On the other hand, the defeat could spark calls within the four opposition parties for a review of their united front in preparation for the next lower house general election.

The LDP-Komeito alliance extended all-out support to Masuda, which it officially supported, but some LDP legislators and local assembly members backed Koike.

Senior members of the governing bloc -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga of the LDP and former Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota of Komeito -- delivered campaign speeches for Masuda.

However, not all LDP Tokyo chapter members were enthusiastic about supporting Masuda. "I didn't mind if we were to support either Mr. Masuda or Ms. Koike," said one LDP lower house member belonging to the party's Tokyo chapter.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not deliver a single support speech during the campaign for the latest gubernatorial race and instead released an online video message calling for support for Masuda. In contrast, Abe, leader of the LDP, had delivered campaign speeches in the previous 2014 Tokyo gubernatorial election in which the LDP backed Yoichi Masuzoe, who won the race. Masuzoe stepped down in June this year over his political funds scandal.

The national government needs to build up mutual trust with the new governor in order to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a success.

"Koike ought to know that the prime minister didn't deliver a campaign speech to support Masuda," said one government source.

Shortly before the campaign period started, the LDP's Tokyo chapter issued a notice warning that it would take disciplinary measures against members who supported Koike, including expulsion from the party. As such, it has been pointed out that the party would actually punish Koike and others who backed her.

However, a high-ranking official of the LDP suggested that the party would rather seek to improve its relations with Koike.

"We will need to cooperate with Ms. Koike. What'd be the point in taking such punitive measures?" the official said.

In the meantime, some within the four opposition parties had been optimistic about the chance of Torigoe winning the gubernatorial election as the LDP was split in the race. Nevertheless, the opposition alliance failed to sufficiently garner votes from their supporters for their joint candidate Torigoe.

Toward the end of the campaign, DP leader Katsuya Okada delivered campaign speeches for Torigoe in a desperate bid to prop up support for him, but suffered a setback.

Senior DP officials are calling for a review of the united front among the four opposition parties against the ruling camp.

"We thought we could win if the four parties formed a united front. Now we need to discuss why we were unsuccessful in our joint struggle," said Jin Matsubara, head of the DP's Tokyo chapter.

"The DP should have played a leading role in the campaign," said another senior DP official.

DP leader Okada, who led the united front campaign, announced on July 30 -- the day before the gubernatorial election -- that he would not seek re-election in the party's upcoming presidential election.

High-ranking members of the DP Tokyo chapter are critical of Okada's decision although he denied that his decision had anything to do with the outcome of the gubernatorial race.

"Mr. Okada rejected a candidate that the Tokyo chapter had selected, and instead picked another (Mr. Torigoe)," said Matsubara. "Mr. Okada needed to fulfill his responsibility to the end."

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