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'Battle against political powers' proves effective for Koike

Yuriko Koike is seen during her campaign for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on July 16, 2016. (Mainichi)

Former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike was elected Tokyo's first female governor on July 31. Facing two other candidates backed by political parties in practically the same kind of framework as national politics, Koike, 64, succeeded in gaining voters' sympathy with a strategy of entering the limelight and "battling it out alone." As a result, former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Hiroya Masuda, 64, and journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, 76, who went into the race with the support of political parties, lost votes from their support bases.

"This was an unprecedented election battle," Koike said on July 31 immediately after being assured of victory in the election. "I sense keenly that the ring of people who supported me grew larger."

Koike, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), made the shock announcement that she was running in the gubernatorial race on June 29, becoming the first of the main candidates to enter the race. This caused a backlash from the Tokyo chapter of the LDP, and in particular the LDP members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, on the grounds that she did not inform them of her decision in advance. The LDP subsequently decided to officially back Masuda, while four opposition parties threw their weight behind Torigoe. One LDP official described Koike, in her stand against a major organization, as a "mad princess."

Koike, however, used the fact that she had been left on her own against the party. On the first day of campaigning, Koike compared her supporters to a group of musicians, saying, "Starting from the first violin played by just one person, let each person come together with an instrument and let us make a great orchestra."

Koike underscored not only her policies, but her differences from other candidates, and took sarcastic swipes at Masuda's camp, saying, "I'm a toy bamboo leaf boat. Over there is a warship." "They (my supporters) will come by themselves. Over there it's a conscription system."

On the evening of July 30, the final day of campaigning, Koike gave a speech in front of JR Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo. Green shirts, green scarves and green handkerchiefs surrounded her. Her supporters rooted for her as if she were an idol. Most of her speech was devoted to an overview of the election and she seemed to have a sense of fulfillment.

It is believed that voters sympathetically accepted the image of Koike as a heroine coming up against two male candidates backed by major political parties. In a public opinion poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun on July 23 and 24, it emerged she was supported by nearly 40 percent of voters who backed the LDP, roughly on par with Masuda. She also had just under 40 percent of support among those not associated with any political party. In exit polls conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun on July 31, around 50 percent of both supporters of the LDP and unaffiliated voters said they had voted for Koike, indicating that support for her had risen. That momentum spread to backers of the opposition Democratic Party (DP). While she had initially received under 20 percent of approval among DP supporters in earlier opinion polls, in exit polls support for her stood at around 40 percent.

Masuda's camp was eventually unable to wage a strong organized battle. The three parties who backed him -- the LDP, its junior coalition partner Komeito and the Party for Japanese Kokoro won about 2.95 million proportional representation votes in Tokyo in the July 10 House of Representative election, but they failed to convert that support into votes for Masuda.

Before the start of campaigning, the Tokyo chapter of the LDP warned in a document that if any LDP members or their families supported a candidate who was not officially backed by the party, it would be grounds for expulsion. But this may have actually had a negative effect on Masuda's campaign. One LDP ward assembly member in Koike's constituency commented "Even when the document was issued, I felt it was the natural thing to do (to support Koike). I did so with resolution."

Among supporters of Komeito, 70 percent surveyed in exit polls said they voted for Masuda, indicating the party's supporters were organized. But the figure among supporters of the LDP stood at around 40 percent. Masuda did not necessarily have high name recognition, and he announced his candidacy just three days ahead of the start of campaigning.

"Toward the end of the campaign, critical words and actions were exchanged with other camps, and there wasn't much attention on policy debate, which is his specialty," a member of his campaign team surmised.

Koike's victory may have been helped along by the errors of Torigoe's campaign. He has high name recognition, and in the opening stages of the campaign, a Mainichi Shimbun poll found that he had around 30 percent support from both men and women in their 40s or above. But in an opinion poll on July 23 and 24 -- after the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun published an article on July 21 over suspicions about his past relationship with a woman -- his support among women ranging from their 30s to 50s fell to around 10 to 20 percent. In exit polls on July 31, he was supported by less than 20 percent of voters between their teens and 40s.

In exit polls, 70 percent of supporters of the Japanese Communist Party -- one of the four parties that backed Torigoe along with the DP, Social Democratic Party, and People's Life Party -- said they had voted for Torigoe. But the corresponding figure for supporters of the DP was 50 percent. Not more than 20 percent of nonaffiliated voters said they had backed Torigoe.

Overall, 30 percent of exit poll respondents who said they had voted for Koike said they placed the greatest focus on her political policies. The next most important factors among those who supported her were her political experience, at 27 percent, and her personality, at 16 percent. For those who picked Masuda, the most important factors were "policies" and "administration experience," while for those who picked Torigoe, the top factor was "personality."

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