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Party of Hope badly shaken by election losses, criticism of leader Koike mounts

Party of Hope leader Yuriko Koike is photographed in Paris on Oct. 22, 2017. (Mainichi)

The Party of Hope is badly shaken after losing seats in the Oct. 22 general election despite the initial optimism surrounding the party's launch in September.

With only four single-seat constituencies yet to report as of noon on Oct. 23, the Party of Hope had slid to 49 House of Representatives seats from a pre-election strength of 57, this latter figure composed of defectors from other parties. The casualties included many members who helped form Hope, making a rebound for the new force led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike look extremely difficult.

Furthermore, there has been much internal griping about Koike, deepening the disorder in the party ranks. Meanwhile Seiji Maehara, who decided to merge his Democratic Party (DP) with the Party of Hope just before the election, has indicated he will step down as DP leader.

Hope backed 235 candidates, or just over the 233 seats required to secure a majority in the 465-seat lower chamber. However, liberal rival Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) ended up winning more seats (54, as of noon on Oct. 23) to become the largest opposition party, though it had fielded far fewer candidates.

Speaking about Hope's dramatic loss of momentum before election day, party acting leader Shinji Tarutoko touched on Koike's "exclusion" of DP members that did not meet her ideological criteria, saying, "Our party was so fragile that a single phrase like that severely altered our party's strength for the worse."

Most of the Party of Hope's winning candidates were former DP incumbents or political veterans, while Koike ally and core Hope member Masaru Wakasa lost his seat. The results have badly sapped Koike's strength to hold the party together. One former DP member and veteran lawmaker told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Ms. Koike's responsibility will be questioned. She should resign the leadership and stay on only as an adviser."

Hope's Diet caucus will meet on Oct. 25, after Koike returns from Europe, to discuss party positions and who should be the party's candidate for prime minister. It is certain that Koike will have to face some stiff criticism from the lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Maehara visited the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) headquarters on Oct. 23 to apologize to President Rikio Kozu, saying, "We did not get results." Maehara added, "Once we determine what course to take, I will think about my own actions," and indicated he would resign as DP leader. Maehara intends to join the Hope faction in the lower chamber, and to formally join the party.

CDP leader Yukio Edano also paid a visit to Kozu and confirmed his party and Rengo would continue to cooperate.

"You produced good results because you listened to the voices of the people," Kozu told Edano. CDP executives met in Tokyo on the afternoon of Oct. 23 to discuss the party's post-election management.

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