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Koike faces catch 22 after Party of Hope's general election setback

Party of Hope leader and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike (Mainichi)

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, whose new Party of Hope was defeated in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election, suggested that she would step back from front-line party affairs while retaining the leadership.

"I would like to devote myself to the metropolitan administration," Koike said repeatedly at an Oct. 25 gathering of Hope members from both houses of the Diet. At a post-meeting media scrum, one reporter asked if she would give Hope lawmakers the initiative in working out internal conflicts of opinion on state policy. She replied simply, "It depends on the theme" -- hinting that she would be involved in party management to some extent.

In explaining why she would stay head of the party, Koike emphasized that Hope garnered nearly 10 million votes in proportional representation blocs in the general election, and underlined her responsibility as party founder. The move is apparently aimed at fending off criticism that she has tossed aside her conservative opposition party after its election debacle. In the meantime, however, there appears to be no alternative to replace Koike, as the party is heavily dependent on Koike's personal popularity.

Party of Hope decision-making has been top-down ever since it formed under Koike in September. Still riding high from her Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) party's victory in the July Tokyo metro assembly election, Koike led the formulation of the Party of Hope's general election platform, and also forced candidates late of the beleaguered Democratic Party to sign policy pledges before granting them Hope's endorsement. She even declared she would "exclude" former DP legislators looking to join her party based on their views on security legislation and the pacifist Constitution. The move badly undermined Hope's public image, eventually leading to its defeat in the Oct. 22 election.

The party would apparently have a hard time finding Koike's successor if needed, even from among those who jumped on the Hope bandwagon in September. Former Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, who defected from the DP to prepare for the Party of Hope's inauguration, is reviled by former DP legislators as a "traitor." Party members who ran only on Hope's proportional representation bloc roster and barely won seats on Oct. 22 have also heaped criticism on former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Shinji Tarutoko, whom Koike appointed acting leader, for being given preferential billing on the party's Kinki bloc list.

Some favor lower house member Yuichiro Tamaki as Koike's successor. However, if Koike pulls out of party leadership completely, Hope would become "merely a group of conservative DP members" and would effectively disband, said one source close to the party.

At the Oct. 25 party gathering, Junya Ogawa, a close aide of DP leader Seiji Maehara, and several other Party of Hope members demanded that Koike decide whether to step down as leader. However, such calls did not reflect mainstream opinion in the room. "We shouldn't be talking about resignations or a party split at this point," said one attendee.

At a Sept. 25 press conference where Koike announced the Party of Hope's launch, she played up the party's potential significance, saying, "There will be a synergistic effect between metropolitan administration and state affairs." If she resigns as party leader, then she would also lose more of her centripetal force in the metropolitan administration.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has lashed out at Koike, accusing her of "having her fingers in two pies and neglecting her duties in the metropolitan administration." If Koike stays head of Hope, the LDP will criticize her relentlessly. One Party of Hope legislator told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Komeito, the partner party in the metro administration, would no longer cooperate with (Tomin) in the Tokyo assembly."

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