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Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks to reporters in Paris. (Photo by Yuki Sakurada)
Politics

Miscalculation dashes Koike's hope for Japan election win

Tokyo governor owns party's loss, points way forward

YUKI SAKURADA and TOGO SHIRAISHI, Nikkei staff writers | Japan

PARIS -- Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's Party of Hope left supporters deflated after a trouncing its leader chalked up to her own missteps, such as using harsh words toward former Democrats who were not in sync with her policy stances.

The popular anti-establishment figure lacked much of her trademark energy when appearing before reporters Sunday, after polls had closed in Japan. Though the promise of change had handed Koike "decisive victories" in the 2016 gubernatorial race and this July's Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, the lower house vote was a "resounding defeat, no doubt about it," she said.

"I tried to focus on policy, but the result was painful indeed," lamented Koike, who said she takes the defeat "very seriously."

"We must take a close look at the reasons for the loss," she said.

Fatal error

Kibo no To, as Hope is known in Japanese, went into the election with 235 candidates -- the third-most of any party, behind the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party. But Koike's dreams of forming a government fell flat. The party had won 49 seats as of 4 a.m. Monday, down from 57 seats in the previous parliament. The LDP won a stand-alone majority yet again and held on to a two-thirds supermajority with junior coalition partner Komeito's help.

"I myself displayed a certain arrogance," Koike said. She admitted that her strategy of waging election battles leveraging her own name recognition was not enough to win on the ground. In the end, she said, Hope "did not do enough to channel dissatisfaction" with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government.

Koike used the word "exclude" to explain her plan to pick and choose Hope candidates based on their views on such issues as national security and revising Japan's constitution. And that word choice proved particularly damaging, prompting voter backlash. Though Seiji Maehara, head of the Democratic Party, tried to engineer a wholesale merger with Hope ahead of the race, Koike's selectivity drove a number of left-leaning Democrats to form a rival opposition party.

"I apologize for the ill feeling I caused," Koike said. The opposition "did not have enough time to reorganize," and the disarray "ultimately aided the Abe government," she said.

But the governor stood by her decision to screen on philosophical grounds. "A political party is supposed to agree on policy," Koike said. "I still believe that cohesion on bedrock issues was necessary."

"My biggest regret is that my true intentions did not come through clearly," she said.

Hope springs eternal

Koike ruled out a resignation as party chief in light of the loss. "I am responsible for having set up" the group, and "I plan to manage the party to fulfill my responsibility," she said. But elected lawmakers will take charge of national policy, and the party will discuss designating a co-chief in the Diet, Koike said.

The party's nominee for prime minister when the new lower house convenes will also be decided "in discussion with those who won seats," the governor said. "Lawmakers will take the lead on our national policies and political management."

But there is no guarantee of winners staying in line behind Koike now that their seats are secure. Some ex-Democrats have expressed doubts about keeping the governor front and center, and a few even broke with the party platform on matters including controversial national security legislation during their campaigns. Now, some believe, they could break away from Hope itself.

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