Kyodo News
Back to Main
FOCUS: Koike's victory in Tokyo assembly race may shake Abe's power

In the Tokyo metropolitan election Sunday, voters displayed
their dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal
Democratic Party, in a sign its position is no longer rock solid.

The victory of Yuriko Koike's Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites
First party) and by candidates close to her is a sign that Abe,
looking to rewrite the Constitution and become Japan's
longest-serving prime minister, stands on shaky ground as recent
opinion polls have suggested.

The result reflected voters' hopes for the reform-minded
governor, who assumed the post after two consecutive predecessors
resigned over money scandals. The first female governor in Japan's
capital has vowed to drastically reform the "old assembly" dominated
by members of Abe's LDP.

The anchorwoman-turned-politician enjoys high approval ratings,
which critics attribute to her media tactics including frequent TV
appearances. Koike, 64, was named by Time magazine as one of the
world's 100 Most Influential People of 2017.

But Nihon University political science professor Masahiro
Iwasaki says Koike's victory also reflected voter frustration with
the Abe administration, which has dodged accountability over a series
of dodgy business deals involving two school building projects and
over its high-handed tactics in enacting contentious legislation.

Saying there were no other major issues in the election, Iwasaki
said "the focal point was whether or not (voters) support the LDP."

Abe, who took office in December 2012, has seen his Cabinet's
approval rating plunge recently, in the wake of allegations that Abe
has used his influence to help Kake Educational Institution, whose
president is a close friend, open a veterinary school in a special
economic zone despite concerns of a glut of animal doctors.

That followed an earlier scandal involving a different school
operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which purchased state-owned land in Osaka
at a dramatically reduced price. Abe's wife Akie had been asked to be
honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo Gakuen
planned to open at the site.

While Abe and other Cabinet members have repeatedly denied
wrongdoings, documents linking Abe to Kake's new school came to light
and further deepened the suspicions about the potentially shady
government procedures.

There has also been a backlash to the ruling bloc's handling of
a controversial "conspiracy" law to penalize the planning of crimes,
as the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito party pushed the bill
through the Diet last month by bypassing a House of Councillors
committee vote.

Results of past Tokyo assembly polls have mirrored national
election trends.

In 2009 the Democratic Party of Japan, the predecessor of the
Democratic Party, achieved a landslide victory months before the
party took the helm of the central government for the first time.
Then the LDP regained its leading position in the 2013 assembly
election, after Abe returned to power in the general election in
December 2012.

Still, there were some consolations for the LDP in Sunday's
contest. The voting outcome is unlikely to immediately change the
national political landscape as the next House of Representatives
election need not be held until December 2018, unless the chamber is
dissolved earlier, and the next House of Councillors election is not
expected until mid-2019.

And the Democratic Party also struggled to increase its seats in
the Tokyo assembly.

Tomin First is not entirely free of concerns either, as many of
its newly elected members are political neophytes.

Tetsuo Suzuki, a freelance journalist well-versed in the
metropolitan government, said Koike also appears concerned about the
fate of the alliance with Komeito.
The party, backed by major lay-Buddhist organization Soka
Gakkai, is the LDP's coalition partner in national politics and is
very likely -- given their traditionally strong ties -- to continue
working closely with the LDP over the four-year term of the assembly,
Suzuki said.

Without a stable majority, deliberations in the assembly would
be a tricky task for Koike, including concerning the Tsukiji fish
market relocation plan, a major point of contention with the LDP.

But Tomin First's victory will likely have significant
implications going forward for the LDP's dominance in the Diet.
Suzuki says the governor, a former defense minister, is unlikely to
return to parliament but may establish her party at the national
level, citing the necessity to have a force in the Diet.

Political analysts say Tomin First's victory and the LDP's
dismal performance could put unity within the LDP to the test,
potentially affecting prospects for the constitutional reform sought
by Abe.

With the LDP expected to submit its constitutional reform
proposal to the Diet's extra session later this year or ordinary
session next year, analysts say a national referendum for final
approval could be held before the next lower house election or
simultaneously.

A constitutional amendment must be approved by a majority in a
referendum, and Kyodo News surveys have shown the country is divided
over whether to amend the war-renouncing Constitution.

Abe proposed in May to make explicit the existence of the
Self-Defense Forces in the language of the war-renouncing supreme
law, drafted under the strong influence of the United States after
World War II, aiming to bring an amendment into force by 2020.

Currently the prime minister has a golden opportunity to push
for the goal of revising the supreme law, as his LDP and other
pro-amendment forces hold the required two-thirds of seats in each of
the two Diet chambers to propose a referendum.

If Koike forms a national party, Tomin First's position on
whether changes in the Constitution are needed would be hard for Abe
to ignore, Suzuki said.

In May, Abe became the third longest-serving prime minister in
the postwar era. After the LDP decided in March to extend the term
limit on its leaders, potentially allowing Abe to be re-elected in
the leadership election in September, he could become the
longest-serving leader in Japanese history if he is still in the role
in November 2019. (July 3)


Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike meets with reporters in Tokyo
on July 3, 2017, a day after her new party Tomin First
no Kai (Tokyoites First party) and allies scored a
sweeping victory in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election,
securing an overall majority and dealing Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party its worst defeat
ever in a Tokyo municipal election. (Kyodo)