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Politics

Japan's ruling party divided over Tokyo governor's reelection bid

LDP bigwig backs upstart Koike while local politicians rush to find alternative

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is expected to run for reelection next year, much to the chagrin of the LDP's Tokyo chapter.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party remains undecided about how to respond to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's reelection bid barely six months before the vote on July 5.

Should it back the former LDP lower house member, who is expected to run for a second term, or field a challenger?

LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai stands behind Koike, his longtime political ally, while the LDP's Tokyo chapter is looking for someone else. Whoever the chapter selects, however, will face long odds against Koike and her powerful ally.

Some lawmakers also feel that any attempt to unseat the incumbent governor just before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could come at a significant political cost.

Nikai has maintained close ties with Koike since they were members of the now-defunct New Frontier Party. He was at a meeting organized by Koike supporters over the summer, while Koike frequently visits Nikai at his Tokyo office, ostensibly to discuss city issues such as disaster preparedness.

On Dec. 18, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a meeting with senior members of the Tokyo chapter at a hotel in Tokyo. While details of their conversation are unknown, the Tokyo chapter plans to hold another meeting this month to reconfirm forming a unified front in both the upcoming gubernatorial election and the 2021 assembly poll.

Many in the chapter are still at odds with Koike over her landslide victory in the 2016 gubernatorial race. Koike had tried to run under the party banner, but after being refused, she formed her own party and trounced the LDP candidate.

The beat down continued in the 2017 metropolitan assembly election, during which her party scored a resounding win, causing the LDP to lose half its seats.

Wary of a similar outcome, the party's Tokyo chapter is again loathe to support Koike. It set up a committee to choose a candidate in June, but Nikai informed chapter members in October that they had better inform him quickly if they know a candidate who can beat her.

This led one member to complain that Nikai's strong backing of Koike is making it tough to find a candidate willing to challenge her.

The Tokyo chapter of the LDP is facing off against the formidable Toshihiro Nikai, the party's secretary-general, who remains bullish on Koike.   © Reuters

The Komeito party, the LDP's junior partner in the ruling coalition, has also thrown its support behind Koike, who has adopted a number of Komeito policy proposals, including a program to offer tuition-free education at private high schools.

"We have no problem with supporting Koike's reelection," said a senior Komeito member.

Meanwhile, the decision by the metropolitan election committee to hold the poll on July 5 has come under fire, as it conflicts with the 2020 Summer Olympics start on July 24 and expiry of Koike's current term on July 30.

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