Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s dream of making a triumphant return to the national political stage lasted all of 50 days.
Having savored a sweet victory in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election in July, Koike moved to form a national political party as a springboard to reap a key role in the central government.
On Sept. 25, Koike took the lead and announced the formation of Kibo no To (Hope).
However, her strategy ran into hurdles almost from the outset, and on Nov. 14 Koike announced she was stepping down as party leader to concentrate on her duties as Tokyo governor.
A close associate summed up the dilemma she faced: “In order to make a comeback, the only path was to resign as party head and concentrate on Tokyo metropolitan government matters that voters are demanding.”
Recent media polls show that the bulk of the Tokyo electorate believes that Koike should stick to her role as governor, and not wear two hats.
In many ways, Koike, 65, triggered her political downfall.
She initially said she was forming the Hope party to oust the administration led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oct. 22 Lower House election.
But when it was proposed that the Hope party merge with the opposition Democratic Party, Koike turned off many voters with her refusal to embrace left-leaning Democratic Party members in her party or allow all the potential defectors to run on the Hope ticket.
That led some Democratic Party members to form a new party.
In the end, the Hope party fielded 235 candidates in the Lower House election, but only managed to win 50 seats, thereby dashing its hopes of mounting a credible alternative to Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. Moreover, a majority of those victorious candidates were originally members of the Democratic Party.
“Many members of the party could no longer be controlled by her,” one Koike associate noted.
Koike then moved to leave Hope party matters to Diet members. That led to the election Nov. 10 of Yuichiro Tamaki as co-leader. With Koike’s resignation, Tamaki became the sole head of the Hope party.
Another move to dilute Koike’s influence emerged in revisions to Hope party regulations that initially mirrored the political stance of the conservative Tokyo governor.
Despite those moves, the political fortunes of the Hope party continued to nosedive.
A Nov. 11-12 survey by The Asahi Shimbun showed the party has only 3 percent support.
In the Nov. 12 Katsushika Ward assembly election in Tokyo, four of the five candidates officially endorsed by the Hope party went down to defeat.
Having seen the writing on the wall, Koike announced her resignation.
But that will not ensure smooth sailing in the Tokyo metropolitan government, where a host of major issues await Koike. For example, a final date for relocating the Tsukiji fish market to the Toyosu district in Koto Ward is still undecided, while preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics also face many difficult issues.
Koike’s recent flirtation with national politics has created additional problems at the local level.
Of particular concern is a move by Komeito to effectively dissolve a coalition with the Tomin First no Kai (Tokyo residents first association) that Koike helped establish for the July metropolitan assembly election.
While Koike’s local party has a plurality in the assembly, it falls short of an outright majority. Thus, the cooperation of the Komeito chapter was vital.
Many chapter members chafed at Koike’s formation of the Hope party because it meant pitting her party against the ruling coalition, of which Komeito is the junior partner.
Komeito metropolitan assembly members have turned up the heat on Koike by stating they will now decide on a case-by-case basis whether to support any move in the assembly that she makes rather than provide their outright cooperation.