TOKYO -- Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's new "Party of Hope" is well on its way to becoming the heart of Japan's political opposition. But what does it stand for, besides amassing enough followers to succeed at the polls?
The popular anti-establishment governor came out strong in a recent news conference. She said Kibo no To, as her new national party is known in Japanese, would "reset Japan" and usher in an era of "bold politics unencumbered by links to special interests." It was certainly enough to put members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and their allies on edge.
To be sure, an opposition force that can offer voters real alternatives to the LDP's agenda and stand up to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government in the parliament is much-needed. The Abe government, having been in power more than four and a half years, has been marred by arrogance and complacency of late, and many ordinary Japanese have yet to feel the impact of economic recovery.
But Koike must think through her party's policies a good deal more if she aims for a change of government. Kibo no To has pledged to hold off on further increases in the consumption tax until the economy improves in a way that makes a real difference to the public, and to reduce both the number of lawmakers in the Diet and their compensation. So has the Abe government in the past, when deciding to delay a scheduled tax hike. Needed now are not more pleasant generalities, but specific proposals that will improve fiscal health and the broader economy and make the government more efficient in the long term.
All about expediency
Another core Kibo no To tenet, eliminating nuclear power, is also less than original. The main opposition Democratic Party has called for full denuclearization by the 2030s. Koike's new party needs to explain what will replace the atom and how Japan will absorb the economic impacts of altering its energy mix.
And while a flood of Democratic Party lawmakers have mustered behind the new party, did they really do so out of agreement on policy? After all, the Democrats only recently chose as their chief Seiji Maehara, who pledged to raise the consumption tax and apply the proceeds toward free education and other services. The alliance now coming together will have a hard time shaking suspicions that winning elections is its only real goal.
Kibo no To's mission has been described by an LDP official as "nothing more than a collection of phrases that sound good to the public -- it's classic populism." The ruling party is hardly less politically motivated, of course. While the looming snap election that pushed Koike's party into existence is nominally a referendum on the LDP's plans to change how it spends proceeds from the next consumption tax hike, the true purpose of dissolving the lower house now is clearly to shore up that party's hold on power before the opposition gets its act together.
If only this election were a contest of policy rather than a matter of confrontation for confrontation's sake.