Giving Up Hope

How Yuriko Koike Lost Japan's Snap Election

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike other Party of Hope lawmakers campaigning in Tokyo, October 2017. Issei Kato / REUTERS

On September 25, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike upstaged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by announcing that she would lead her newly created Party of Hope in the snap election that Abe announced later that same day. For a moment, it seemed that Abe had made a colossal error in calling an early vote: instead of competing against a divided and disintegrating Democratic Party (DP), his Liberal Democratic Party would face an up-and-coming conservative group led by Koike, who had trounced the LDP’s candidates in Tokyo’s municipal elections in July.

As it turned out, the Party of Hope fizzled. After an initial surge in opinion polls following the party’s launch, its support plummeted, even in Tokyo. When the general election votes were tallied on October 22, Koike’s party came nowhere close to threatening the LDP’s grip on power. After fielding 235 candidates, the Party of Hope won only 49 seats. It finished in third place, behind another new opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), which won 55 seats despite running only 78 candidates. The Party of Hope performed especially poorly in Tokyo given Koike’s base in the capital, winning only one of its 25 districts and finishing a distant third in the capital region’s proportional representation bloc. Both opposition parties finished far behind the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito, which together won a supermajority for the third straight general election.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greeting supporters in Tokyo, October 2017.  Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS

The Party of Hope had many problems, and they began with Koike. By announcing that she would lead the party while remaining Tokyo’s governor, Koike made herself vulnerable to what the LDP’s Shinjiro Koizumi—the son of Koike’s mentor, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi—called a “dilemma of irresponsibility.” Were she to leave the governorship to run as a Hope candidate in the election, she would abandon Tokyo at a crucial moment: the city is dealing with the controversial relocation of the Tsukiji fish market and preparing for the 2020 Olympics. On the other hand, if

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