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What Does Tokyo’s New Governor Mean for Japanese Politics?

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On July 31, Tokyo elected its first female governor. Yuriko Koike, the former defense minister who also served as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s special advisor on national security when he was first in office between 2006-2007, scored a landslide victory, wining by more than one million votes. She took over the office from Yoichi Masuzoe, who resigned in mid-June over a spending scandal.

When Koike first announced her intention to run, it sparked discord within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has a ruling majority in Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Wary of endorsing another “celebrity” candidate who could be forced to resign over financial and other personal scandals, the LDP leadership had already begun exploring several candidates who are former bureaucrats at the time of her announcement. When Koike indicated that she would run regardless of whether the LDP endorsed her or not, it triggered a strong negative reaction from the party’s rank and file, including Nobuteru Ishihara, son of former Governor Shintaro Ishihara and the chairman of the LDP Tokyo Metropolitan Branch, who went so far as to say “she will no longer be considered a member of LDP from this day forward.”

To be fair, Koike never enjoyed a party-wide support in LDP.  Her frequent changes of party affiliation—she first ran for office as a candidate from the Japan New Party (Nihon Shinto) in 1992then changed her affiliation to New Frontier Party (Shin-Shin to), Liberal Party (Jiyu-to), and New Conservative Party (Hoshu-to) before joining the LDP in 2002—make some people call her “Political Migrant Bird” (Seikai Watari-dori). Even after entering the LDP, she has switched her allegiance among different party seniors, including Abe. In other words, if you are a fellow Diet member who needs a loyal political ally, you are unlikely to find one in Koike. Some, particularly those who are longtime LDP members, also have been critical of her in the past for being only interested in being in spotlight. Finally, many ask about her ability to govern, which is largely untested.

Despite such misgivings about her, how did she win?

This is an excerpt of an article published in The Diplomat, on August 3, 2016. 

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