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Confusion reigns as rumors swirl Koike's party may team up with LDP after poll

Party of Hope leader Yuriko Koike answers reporters' questions in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 5, 2017, after holding talks with Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara. (Mainichi)

Party of Hope leader Yuriko Koike's failure to rule out the possibility that her new force will form a coalition government with other parties following the Oct. 22 general election has sparked speculation that the hope party could join hands with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after the poll.

Koike, governor of Tokyo, said her party will confront the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- and not the LDP -- in the election.

She apparently aims to secure various choices for the framework of a new government following the election.

There is speculation within the ruling coalition that the Party of Hope may nominate former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who is critical of Prime Minister Abe, in a Diet election of the prime minister following the lower house race.

Koike declined to run in the House of Representatives election during a meeting with largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) leader Seiji Maehara on Oct. 5. The DP has decided to disband itself and effectively merge into the Party of Hope.

"I received an earnest request, but I've repeatedly said I have no intention of running in the general election. We'll consider who should be our candidate for prime minister," she told reporters after meeting with Maehara.

Koike has reiterated that the Party of Hope will aim for a single-party majority in the lower chamber. If a political party wins at least 233 seats, a majority in the 465-seat chamber, its leader usually becomes prime minister. However, the prime minister must be elected from among Diet members. Therefore, if Koike does not run in the general election, questions remain as to who will be her party's candidate for prime minister.

Maehara hopes that if Koike -- who led Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First party), a local political party which scored a landslide victory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election in July -- became the Party of Hope's candidate for prime minister, it would give momentum to the party's campaign.

Moreover, those who have moved from the DP to the Party of Hope are wary that Koike could move to form a coalition government with the LDP following the election.

As if to see through former DP legislators' concerns, Koike pointed out to reporters in front of Maehara that the LDP formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) headed by then SDP Chairman Tomiichi Murayama in 1994.

"The phrase, 'election of the prime minister,' reminded me that oil and water joined hands," she said.

After Koike left the meeting with reporters, Maehara emphasized he has agreed with Koike that the Party of Hope needs to swiftly hold talks to decide who it should field as a candidate for prime minister.

However, Koike has failed to clarify who her party will nominate as a candidate for prime minister and when.

Koike and Maehara have agreed that the Party of Hope will confront the Abe government in the election. Nevertheless, Koike has stopped short of ruling out the possibility that her party will form a coalition government with the LDP.

After a Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly session on Oct. 5, Koike told reporters, "We're trying hard to aim to be the largest bloc in the lower house, and I'd like to make a decision after seeing the election outcome. It's just natural in politics."

Former DP members who have joined the Party of Hope are increasingly concerned about Koike's unclear strategy.

The fact that the Party of Hope will not field its own candidates in constituencies where the LDP's Ishiba, who is close to Koike, and former Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita, an aide to Ishiba, will run has sparked speculation that Koike may consider cooperating with these politicians after the election.

Moreover, the Party of Hope has no intention of fielding a candidate in a constituency where Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda of the LDP, who is also close to Koike, will run.

If the ruling coalition comprised of the LDP and Komeito were to fall short of a majority in the chamber, Prime Minister Abe could step down. Consequently, the LDP would field its new leader as a candidate for prime minister and invite the Party of Hope and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) to form a grand coalition government.

Furthermore, the possibility cannot be ruled out that if the ruling coalition were to manage to secure a simple majority but the LDP were to lose a single-party majority, Abe could be forced to resign to take responsibility for his party's defeat.

In such a situation, Koike could approach Ishiba or Noda and field either of them as the Party of Hope's candidate for prime minister and form a coalition administration.

A source close to the DP warns that if the Party of Hope were to join hands with the LDP, it could split the new party. "None of the DP members who joined the Party of Hope assume that they will join hands with the LDP. If that were to happen, the Party of Hope would be bound to split following the general election," the source said.

Concerns are also spreading within the governing bloc that Koike could approach individual LDP members to urge them to join hands with her following the election, according to a former Cabinet minister.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga criticized Koike for failing to clarify what sort of administration she aims to form.

"I think it's hard for the public to understand why the leader of a political party that aims to take over the reins of government wouldn't concentrate on national politics or identify its candidate for prime minister," Suga told a news conference on Oct. 5.

Since Koike formed her new party, the LDP has defied her by saying that she should run in the general election. However, Koike, who has served as Tokyo governor for only a little over a year, would be criticized if she were to resign before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and move into national politics.

Shinjiro Koizumi, chief deputy secretary-general of the LDP, has pointed out that Koike will be criticized regardless if she chooses to run in the general election or not.

"If she fields herself in the election, she will be criticized for being irresponsible by abandoning her governorship. If she chooses not to run, she will also be blasted for being irresponsible because she, as party head, wouldn't be able to become prime minister. She faces such a dilemma," Koizumi said.

Still, a senior election strategist with the LDP is wary that Koike could retract her decision not to run in the election and affirm her candidacy. "She's the kind of person who would never hesitate to say she would 'reset' her plans and declare her candidacy just before official campaigning kicks off."

Despite her confrontational attitude toward the Abe government, Koike, who is enthusiastic about revising the postwar Constitution, could cooperate with Abe in reforming the supreme law if the ruling coalition wins the election and the prime minister stays on.

In a BS Fuji TV program on the night of Oct. 5, Prime Minister Abe did not rule out the possibility that the LDP will join hands with the Party of Hope saying, "It depends on the outcome of the election."

However, Abe expressed displeasure at Koike's remarks suggesting that she will pursue a coalition government following the election.

"It's rude toward the public for her to talk only about changing her political alignment and joining hands with other political forces," the prime minister said.

In the meantime, Ishiba dismissed speculation that he will join hands with Koike. "We (the LDP-Komeito coalition) would like to continue to lead the government," he told a Nippon Cultural Broadcasting radio program.

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