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Party of Hope turns dysfunctional after election loss, fails to appoint senior officials

Party of Hope leader Yuriko Koike delivers a speech at a gathering of the party's legislators in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 25, 2017. (Mainichi)

The conservative opposition Party of Hope's governance has become dysfunctional after its defeat in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election.

At a meeting of its legislators on Oct. 25, the party failed to appoint senior officials or decide who the party should vote for in the Diet election of prime minister on Nov. 1. Many legislators also demanded that Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike step down as party leader.

Koike told the meeting that she will work hard for the metropolitan administration, distancing herself from intraparty confusion. In sum, it appears the party's governance is beginning to collapse.

Some 40 to 50 legislators made statements during the meeting that lasted for over three hours from 3 p.m., one attendee said.

"I'd like you (Koike) to sincerely consider your responsibility for the party's loss," one legislator told the gathering. Another said, "Because of a single phrase you uttered, 180 of our comrades were killed in action. It was a blood-splattered election." The latter legislator was referring to Koike's declaration that she would "exclude" liberal members of the Democratic Party (DP) from joining the Party of Hope.

Of its 50 winners, about 40 joined Hope from other parties, mostly the DP, once the largest opposition party. The DP had decided to merge with the Party of Hope shortly before the election.

All those demanding Koike step down were former DP members, who feel they do not need to follow the Tokyo governor because they were elected despite the party losing considerable public support following her exclusion remark. Thus Koike has agreed to leave party management, including executive appointments, to Hope's Diet caucus. The party's secretary-general and other high-ranking officials will be appointed in the name of its leader under party rules. However, Koike is fully aware that any top-down decision-making is no longer accepted by Hope's legislators.

One attendee, Takeshi Shina, proposed that Shinji Tarutoko, the party's second in command, and other executives work out a temporary personnel proposal while consulting with Hope legislators.

"It'd be undemocratic if the leader were to appoint executives as the party rules stipulate," Shina told reporters. At the meeting, Koike herself proposed to review this provision.

Those from the DP also criticized the Koike-led policy line. She has declared that Hope would respond to individual policy measures implemented by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on merit, while clarifying points of contention with the administration. However, many legislators pressed Koike to clarify the Party of Hope's stance toward the government.

"If we are to be the second Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), you should disband the party right here, right now," one of them said. Koike had no choice but to reiterate that the Party of Hope will "aim to be a political bloc to confront the predominant Abe administration."

Moreover, some members urged the Party of Hope to seek broad cooperation with other opposition parties.

"We shouldn't narrow our group. Opposition parties shouldn't 'exclude' (some other opposition forces) but rather cooperate," one legislator said, demanding that the Party of Hope join hands with other opposition parties just as the DP did in the 2016 House of Councillors election.

Junya Ogawa, who hails from the DP, insisted that Party of Hope legislators vote for Yukio Edano, leader of the liberal Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), which emerged as the largest opposition party following the general election, in the Diet election of prime minister.

Legislators are also undermining the Party of Hope's "realistic diplomatic policy" centering on its support for controversial security legislation that opened the way for Japan's exercise of the right to collective self-defense under the war-renouncing Constitution.

At the meeting, legislators discussed a policy agreement that the party required its general election candidates to sign as a precondition for official endorsement.

Many lawmakers who voted against the security legislation when they belonged to the DP demanded that the Party of Hope oppose the laws.

"I'm under fire from my supporters for sacrificing my beliefs for the election. I'd like you to confirm that the party doesn't approve the security legislation," one of them told Koike. In the end, the legislators confirmed that the Party of Hope's security policy is consistent with that of the DP, and Tarutoko stated that the party is determined to constantly review the security legislation.

However, Koike's intention to clarify its differences from the LDP in domestic policies while keeping pace with the government on foreign policy differs sharply from the DP's position. Because of this difference, Koike barred liberal members of the DP from joining her party.

In sum, the Party of Hope's basic position is being shaken by its general election loss.

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