Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has stepped down as leader of the Party of Hope, which she launched ahead of the October House of Representatives election. The lead character in the "Koike theater," which attracted an intense but ultimately temporary flurry of media and public attention, has left the stage having accomplished little but split and weaken the opposition. Her move is nothing short of selfishness.
Koike formed the party right before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the lower house in September, saying that she would "reset" preparations being made by her close aides for a new party and she herself would be the founder.
From the very beginning, there were major concerns about her doubling as Tokyo governor and leader of a national-level political party. Koike, however, did not seem to care, stressing that she needed to be involved in national politics to advance the affairs of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Koike tried to appeal to general election voters with the claim that her party would address politics dominated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. After the then largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) announced it would merge with Hope, Koike said she would not accept liberal DP members as candidates for her new party. This essentially derailed efforts to restructure the opposition, and consequently helped Abe strengthen his political base. The Party of Hope, despite the large number of candidates it fielded in the election, failed to even become the main opposition party. While Koike expressed regret over the election result, saying that her ego and arrogance had led to the disappointing outcome, she had denied that she would resign the party leadership.
Koike has quit as a party leader before. Right after her regional party "Tomin First no Kai" (the Tokyoites first party) scored a landslide victory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly poll in July, she stepped down as party head and became a special adviser. Seeing these instances, one cannot help but think that she uses her popularity solely as an election advertising ploy.
The result of the latest general election exposed Koike's declining popularity. What is even more serious for her is that Komeito -- which despite being the coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the National Diet, sided with Tomin First in the metro assembly election -- has decided to leave the ruling metro assembly bloc after objecting to Koike's charge onto the national political scene.
In a recent local assembly election in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, four of the five candidates who ran on the Tomin First ticket lost. In other words, the foundations of her governorship have been shaken badly, and Koike likely resigned the Party of Hope leadership as she could no longer afford to get involved in national politics.
Yuichiro Tamaki, who had been picked as co-leader for the Party of Hope to represent party members in the Diet, was suddenly named Koike's successor. The in-house election to pick the party co-leader was supposed to be based on the premise that Koike would stay on. Hope's ad hoc move to just promote the winner of the race to party chief is not how a political party should respond.
Furthermore, intraparty conflict over issues such as constitutional amendment and security policy came to the surface in the co-leader election. The party's centripetal force is on the decline after losing its face in Koike, and is now projected to break apart sooner or later.
What was Koike's leap onto the national political stage for? Or who was it for?
It could be that, even if she wanted to clear up the mess after Hope's humiliating election loss, she did not have enough political strength to assume responsibility for her party as leader. At the same time, leaving the position without even trying to show the slightest effort to rebuild her own creation appears best described by the simple phrase: "Me first."