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Koike's resignation as Party of Hope leader could speed up split within party

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, center left, and newly appointed Party of Hope leader Yuichiro Tamaki, center right, are pictured with other members of the party in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 14, 2017. (Mainichi)

Speculation is growing that the resignation of Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike as leader of the opposition Party of Hope could speed up a split within the party.

Koike could come under fire for abandoning her duty as party leader only two months after its founding, which could further cause the opposition force to lose public support. The party does not yet have a clear outlook for the 2019 House of Councillors election.

House of Representatives member Hiroshi Ogushi, who was defeated by fellow lower house member Yuichiro Tamaki in the party's co-leadership election, expressed displeasure at the process through which Koike abruptly appointed Tamaki as her successor.

"The decision-making lacked transparency. I'm skeptical of the procedure (for appointing Tamaki as leader) and feel the appointment came abruptly," Ogushi told reporters after a general meeting of the party's Diet caucus in which Tamaki was appointed as Koike's successor.

In a Nov. 10 election, Tamaki was elected co-leader of the Party of Hope to represent the party in the Diet on the premise that Koike would stay on as party leader. After Koike stepped down, however, Tamaki became leader on the recommendation of Koike, a move that anti-Koike forces within the party view as "murky."

The Party of Hope, which suffered defeat in the Oct. 22 lower house election, is now comprised mostly of those who had previously belonged to the Democratic Party (DP) and moved to the new party shortly before the election campaign kicked off. However, conflict within the DP over basic policy has been brought into the Party of Hope -- a fact that was highlighted by the co-leadership race.

Legislators who had earlier left the DP to found the Party of Hope are conservatives and support Koike's policies, including those on constitutional revisions and security legislation that has opened the way for Japan's limited exercise of the right to collective self-defense.

In contrast, Ogushi, who insisted during the campaign for the co-leadership race that the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution does not need to be amended and that he did not support the security laws, garnered votes from 14 of the party's 53 legislators.

Before top party officials were appointed at the Nov. 14 meeting, Ogushi urged Tamaki to clarify whether he would pick top officials from among the party's founding members or those who joined the new party later. However, Tamaki apparently gave an evasive answer.

Tamaki ultimately appointed the party's founding members to the party's executive positions. Former Senior Vice Defense Minister Akihisa Nagashima was appointed policy chief while former Environment Minister Goshi Hosono was named head of the party's research panel on the Constitution.

The appointments are tantamount to pressing an intraparty group led by Ogushi to choose whether they will accept Koike's policy line or leave the party.

Following the meeting, Hosono told reporters that "the Party of Hope's policy line has become extremely clear."

In the campaign for the co-leadership election, Ogushi said he would seek to form a joint parliamentary bloc with the DP and the liberal opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), which is a splinter group of the DP, in a bid to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In other words, Ogushi is seeking to reintegrate legislators who currently belong to and previously belonged to the DP. However, Tamaki told a news conference after the Diet caucus meeting, "We'd like to proclaim our uniqueness."

Under the circumstances, intraparty conflict over basic policy will inevitably intensify, and attention is now focused on how many members of the party will join Ogushi if he is to leave the party and join hands with or return to the DP.

Koike's resignation is beneficial to the party, Tamaki and others from the DP in that the move has eliminated a two-tier power structure within the party.

Koike's popularity, which the Party of Hope had heavily relied on, has declined considerably even in Tokyo. Four out of the five candidates fielded by Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First party), a regional party effectively led by Koike, were defeated in the Katsushika Ward Assembly election on Nov. 12.

Commenting on Koike's abrupt resignation shortly after declaring that she would stay on as party leader following the general election, a high-ranking official of the government said, "I think she had no choice but to give up her position."

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