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Criticism mounts over Koike's move to double as nat'l party leader, Tokyo governor

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announces the launch of a new party at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on Sept. 25, 2017. (Mainichi)

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is facing a backlash over her move to launch a national political party while serving as governor of the capital, with numerous political bigwigs raising questions about her motives for starting such a party while remaining in office as the head of the metropolitan government.

Koike held a news conference on Sept. 25 to announce that she was launching a new party called "Kibo no To" (Party of Hope). She has promoted administrative reform in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government since she assumed office in August 2016 and led the regional political group Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) to a landslide victory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election in July this year as the group's de-facto leader. On reasons why she is launching a national-level party while serving as Tokyo governor, Koike said securing reformist forces in national politics would also benefit the capital. The governor also said on a TV program on Sept. 25 that she was aiming for a "synergistic effect, in which the metropolitan government shines" by sending her allies to the Diet.

When it came to examples of such a "synergetic effect," however, Koike only mentioned problems regarding the national strategic special zone system, with a favoritism scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and school operator Kake Educational Institution in mind, and the central government's plan to curb student numbers at private universities in Tokyo's 23 special wards in a bid to mitigate the overconcentration of the population and industry in the capital.

A state official was not pleased with Koike's criticism of the government's university regulation plan, saying, "We're working on advancing the policy while taking the metropolitan government's concerns into consideration. (Gov. Koike's unilateral criticism) could lead citizens to lose trust in the central government."

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of coalition government partner Komeito, told reporters on Sept. 26, "The responsibility of the Tokyo governor is extremely grave. It's not something that can be done while leading a national-level party."

There have been cases in the past where municipal heads launched their own political parties that made their way to the Diet. In the 2012 House of Representatives election, the now defunct Japan Restoration Party deriving from the local political party Osaka Restoration Association led by then Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto fielded candidates, with the aim to promote the "Osaka metropolis plan," in which Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka would merge to form a metropolis.

The metropolis plan has yet to be realized, and Koike will face questions in the upcoming lower house election whether the issues she has raised can only be addressed with the governor involved in national politics.

While Koike is promoting a plan to freeze the consumption tax hike, saying that the public has not felt the benefits of economic recovery, Finance Minister Taro Aso questioned Koike's claim during a news conference on Sept. 26, commenting that if Koike says she can't really see economic recovery in Tokyo, her sensibilities are "off." Aso also threw shade at Koike for her attempt to wear two hats as governor and party leader, with reference to the case of Osaka and Hashimoto, saying, "It didn't work well in Osaka."

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