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Koike Takes Command of the Party of Hope

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the fourth week of September 2017.

One. The calling of the snap election forced the Hope Party to come into existence earlier than it had planned. However, contrary to the previous signals, it was not Masaru Wakasa who became the inaugural party leader, but rather Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike herself. She launched the party with fourteen national lawmakers and made it clear that she was posing a direct assault on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party. The ideological cast of the Hope Party was turning to the hard right, though there were also some progressive policies such as a nuclear energy phaseout and a more credible commitment to gender equality.

Two. If Koike taking leadership of the Hope Party was a small surprise, Seiji Maehara’s reaction to that development was a gargantuan surprise. He announced that the Democratic Party would not be endorsing any candidates in the upcoming general election, effectively meaning that the main opposition party was disbanding after two decades of existence and a three year stint in power. Most of the lawmakers indicated that they would apply to join the new Hope Party, but it was made clear that the liberal wing, especially those who supported the pacifism of Article Nine of the Constitution, would not be welcome to join. Liberal lawmakers were thus facing a possible electoral massacre in late October.

Three. Although he put on a brave face, it was difficult to disguise the fact that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had miscalculated in calling the early snap election. The Democratic Party was so unprepared to fight that its leader decided there was no point in even trying, and he disbanded the struggling outfit. This meant that Abe’s main challenger would now be the much more formidable Hope Party led by Governor Koike. The likely prospect now was that the Liberal Democratic Party would lose a large number of seats in the House of Representatives. Observers were already whispering the name of Theresa May, the British prime minister who recently called a snap election that she thought would strengthen her hand, but in fact destroyed her political future.

Four. Another way the political world was transformed this week was that the Japan Communist Party had unambiguously emerged as the only credible political party on the liberal-left of the ideological spectrum. They quickly agreed to mutual support with the tiny Social Democratic Party. Also, Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii made clear that his party would offer support to any pro-Constitution Democratic Party lawmakers whether they ran as independents or created a new liberal political party. At any rate, the Japan Communist Party was now the third pole of the political world.

Five. Revisionist conservatives were riled by the establishment in San Francisco of a memorial to wartime Comfort Women. Although it was yet another sign that the Japanese right was losing their culture war against history, they continued to complain that the world was treating them unfairly. The most dramatic response came from Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura, who announced that he would be cancelling the Osaka-San Francisco sister city agreement, which had been established in 1957 and was Osaka’s very first sister city affiliation.

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