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The Koike Phenomenon Craters

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 second week of October 2017.

One. This was the week when the Koike phenomenon cratered. The Tokyo governor’s bold gamble to reenter national politics turned into a crash and burn. The public turned against the whole package: the rightwing ideology tests, her unwillingness to directly enter the race, the distraction from her duties as Governor, and the hints that the Party of Hope was eager to enter into a ruling coalition with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and help him rewrite the Peace Constitution. Throughout the week the polls pronounced a definitive verdict: The Japanese public did not like what Governor Koike was doing and her popularity had suddenly vanished in the smoke.

Two. It was a very different week for Yukio Edano, who saw his own gamble in establishing a new political party received warmly. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan was clearly rallying Japanese progressives to the new banner, receiving a degree of popular support that its muddled predecessor, the Democratic Party, had never received. The party was still too small to be a real threat to the Abe government, and wasn’t able to run enough candidates to contemplate forming its own administration, but the CDPJ looked set for a positive start under Edano’s leadership.

Three. Although it was sitting out the general election due to leader Seiji Maehara’s arrangements with the Party of Hope, the notion arose this week that the Democratic Party might reconstitute itself in some form after the election was over. The DP House of Councillors delegation led by Toshio Ogawa made clear that most of them had no interest in joining the Party of Hope. It remained an open question what they and the remaining DP lawmakers in the House of Representatives intended to do. Would they try to create some kind of centrist relaunch of the Democratic Party, or would they join hands with Yukio Edano and the CDPJ?

Four. The net result of the week’s political developments was to virtually ensure that Shinzo Abe and the ruling coalition would enjoy a landslide victory on Election Day. They continued to pound the idea that only the Abe government could handle the North Korean threat. But it was less that the public accepted that particular view than the fact that the Party of Hope, the only challenger large enough to unseat Abe, imploded due to its own mistakes. Prime Minister Abe was thus proven correct in his decision to call an early election—the opposition wasn’t ready after all.

Five. One of the knock-on effects of the rise of the CDPJ was that the Japan Communist Party was toppled from its short-lived position at the pinnacle of the so-called “third pole.” Many progressive floating voters now seemed likely to pull the lever for the CDPJ, and thus the Communists were almost certain to lose some seats. In fact, however, depending on far the Party of Hope fell, the prospect opened up that the CDPJ, the Communist Party, and the Social Democratic Party might soon become the second pole of a two-pole system.

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