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Tokyo Gov. Koike vows to “reset Japan” with new “Hope” party

TOKYO — Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Wednesday her new party aims to “reset” Japanese politics by operating free from the influence of established interests ahead of a lower house election next month.

 

Standing alongside lawmakers who joined the “Kibo no To” (Party of Hope) at a Tokyo press conference to mark its founding, Koike said the “tolerant, reform-minded conservative party” will field as many candidates as possible nationwide in the House of Representatives election slated for Oct. 22.

 

“I am starting this party of hope today along with my friends who share this sense of crisis: that if we don’t reset Japan now, we may not be able to fully protect our international competitiveness and national security,” she told the press conference.

 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced earlier in the week that he will dissolve the lower house for a general election as soon as it convenes on Thursday.

 

Goshi Hosono, a lower house member who left the Democratic Party last month to establish the new party with Koike and 13 other lawmakers, said its policies will focus on “open-minded” reform and conservatism.

 

The party will develop a “realistic” foreign policy within the country’s pacifist principles, work for a society that empowers all regardless of gender or age, and promote the “wise” spending of tax revenues, Hosono said.

 

It remains to be seen whether the party will pledge to freeze a planned hike in Japan’s consumption tax in October 2019 from 8 percent to 10 percent.

 

Hosono said the new party aims to eventually take power and form a government. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party currently rules in coalition with the smaller Komeito party.

 

Koike criticized Abe’s decision to dissolve the lower house, saying, “During the current situation in North Korea, it can’t be good for there to be a political vacuum,” in reference to escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula.

 

While the premier has said he is calling the election to gain a fresh mandate on the use of revenues from the tax hike, as well as his government’s handling of the threat from North Korea, the timing appears to be aimed at taking advantage of the current disorganization among opposition parties.

 

The new party has just a few weeks to prepare its candidates with the aim of fielding 100, while the Diet’s current largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, is performing poorly in opinion polls and has lost several members to the Koike camp.

 

Koike recently held talks with newly installed Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara and veteran lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the minor opposition Liberal Party, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

 

The Democratic Party is split on whether to work in coordination with the new party or treat it as an adversary, with the conservative-leaning Maehara seeking the former with an eye on merging with the Liberal Party.

 

Komeito allied with a regional party backed by Koike in July’s Tokyo metropolitan assembly election, but it appears committed to sticking with the LDP at the national level.

 

The secretaries general and other senior members of the LDP and Komeito affirmed at a meeting on Wednesday morning that they will work together in the “tough” lower house election, vowing not to “take it lightly.”

 

The 14 founding members of the new party, who appeared with Koike on Wednesday, include former LDP lawmakers Masaru Wakasa and Mineyuki Fukuda, defectors from the Democratic Party and Kyoko Nakayama, former leader of the tiny conservative Party for Japanese Kokoro.

 

It was not immediately clear who would lead the new party’s activities in the Diet following the election. Koike, who denied any intention to resign as Tokyo governor to engage in national politics, said the party will wait until after the election before designating whom it would back as prime minister in a parliamentary vote.

 

The party appeared to lean heavily on the popularity that saw former LDP lawmaker Koike sweep the Tokyo gubernatorial election in July last year, opening the press conference with a video showing her leading a group of people out of a dark tunnel into the light.

 

The Abe administration’s top spokesman expressed skepticism on Wednesday about Koike’s ability to manage both jobs at once.

 

“I think it must be rather difficult for the governor, who bears the heavy responsibility of being the leader of the 10 million people (of Tokyo), to serve as the head of a national political party,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

 

“We want to see what sort of realistic policies (the new party) will put forward under its slogans, and whether all its members will be able to agree with those policies,” Suga said.

 

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was in power for five years through 2006 with the LDP, said Wednesday he does not plan to get involved in the running of the new party but supports its policy of abolishing nuclear power generation.

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