Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, then a rookie politician, rocked her green safari jacket and leopard print mini skirt on her first day as a Diet member in 1992, saying that she picked her outfit because she "heard there are fierce beasts and rare animals in the Nagatacho district (where the Diet building is located), and also a raccoon dog."
The following year, the birth of a coalition government led by then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa ended the so-called "1955 system," Japan's decades-long political structure in which the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had an iron grip on the reins of government. Koike was a member of the now defunct Japan New Party, led by Hosokawa. It was a time when political realignment, in which the transition of power from one major conservative party to another, was the main theme of Japanese politics.
Now, a quarter century later, Koike has made a clean kill of the Democratic Party in the political jungle that is the Nagatacho district. When she vowed to "reset Japan" with her new party Kibo no To (Party of Hope) during a recent news conference, was she thinking about the time when Hosokawa's coalition government was formed?
Nevertheless, the usual framework of general elections has been turned upside down and inside out following the launch of Koike's party. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who thought he had the upper hand when he called his decision to dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap election necessary "to overcome the state of national crisis," must be feeling as if control of the political landscape is slipping through his fingers. Faced with the major terrain shift generated by the fast-moving opposition force realignment, Abe now has to go on the defensive.
The prime minister, who was grilled over why he decided to disband the lower house, must have one or two questions about this opposition realignment, which places first priority on the election battle itself, relegating policies to secondary status. The reason behind today's state of the jungle, the result of attempts at political realignment going on since the 1990s, is a failure to restructure party politics based on actual issues.
We are seeing economic globalism destroy the conventional framework of party politics in democracies. What both ruling and opposition parties need to do in the upcoming election is not compete over their political hunting skills in the Nagatacho jungle, but rather propose to citizens choices that fit with the times and have exhaustive discussions. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)