In the recent Tokyo gubernatorial election, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito supported Hiroya Masuda and four opposition parties – Democratic Party (DP), Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party, and People’s Life Party – supported Shuntaro Torigoe, but they lost to Yuriko Koike, who did not have the endorsement of any party. This was an election in which the political parties were clearly defeated.
How to mend relations with Koike will now be a problem for the government and the ruling parties. On the other hand, opposition party members will be questioning their united front policy ahead of the next House of Representatives election.
Although the LDP and Komeito endorsed Masuda and gave him full organizational backing, certain LDP members defected to the Koike camp, causing a rift in the party. Even though party heavyweights – including the LDP’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Komeito’s former Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism Akihiro Ota – campaigned vigorously for Masuda, in reality, most party members did not campaign all that seriously. A House of Representatives member from the LDP’s Tokyo chapter stated in private that “either Masuda or Koike is fine with me.”
While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had campaigned for former Governor Yoichi Masuzoe in the 2014 election, he did not even make one campaign speech for Masuda this time, merely releasing a video message calling for support for Masuda. The relationship between the national government and the new Tokyo governor will be important for the success of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. A government source remarked, “Ms. Koike must have noticed that the Prime Minister did not campaign for Mr. Masuda,” hinting that Abe had anticipated Koike’s victory.
Since the LDP Tokyo chapter had issued a notification earlier that party members supporting Koike might be subject to penalties, including expulsion, it is reckoned that Koike and the Diet members who supported her may be punished after the election. However, a senior LDP official said that “it would be meaningless to impose penalties since we will be working with Ms. Koike from now on,” indicating that there will be moves to mend relations.
There had been optimism in the opposition camp at first, since their unified candidate was fighting against a divided LDP. However, the opposition parties failed in their efforts to cement support, forcing them to fight an uphill battle. Although DP President Katsuya Okada made campaign speeches before the election, they were to no avail.
In light of the defeat, DP Tokyo chapter chief Jin Matsubara told reporters: “I thought we would be able to win with the unity of four parties. We should now discuss why we failed.” Another senior party official asserted that “the DP should have played a more prominent role,” arguing that the united front policy needs to be reviewed. (Slightly abridged)