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Koike at center of political storm

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunTokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who leads the new party Kibo no To (Party of Hope), is becoming the center of the political storm in the upcoming House of Representatives election.

It was widely believed among ruling and opposition parties that Koike would resign as governor of Tokyo before the election and aim to become prime minister. At a press conference Wednesday, however, Koike said, “I will fight [the lower house election] as the governor of Tokyo,” in an attempt to suppress such speculation.

However, rumors that she will return to national politics will likely continue to smolder.

At the press conference, Koike was asked if it is a party leader’s responsibility to be present as a lawmaker in the vote to pick the prime minister, which will take place at the Diet following the lower house election. Koike responded: “I’ll think about that after the contest is over. I want to select a person [as the party’s candidate for prime minister] who can firmly take the lead in national politics.”

Koike was asked the same question on a TV program on Monday. At that time, she answered, “I think Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi is a good choice.” In a sudden about-face from that comment, however, Koike on Wednesday avoided directly answering a question about the possibility of her returning to national politics in the future.

There was a past case in which a local government head concurrently served as the leader of an opposition party. However, the Constitution stipulates that the prime minister shall be designated from among the members of the Diet. Therefore, even if her party wins a majority of seats in the lower house, Koike cannot become prime minister unless she is elected to the lower house in the upcoming general election.

On Monday, Koike abruptly announced she would launch the new party Kibo no To (Party of Hope). The name was already registered as a trademark in February and a video introducing the party was posted on a video-sharing website, indicating that she had made careful preparations.

Since Monday, Koike has repeatedly criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on issues such as the scandal involving the Kake Educational Institution’s plan to establish a veterinary school. “As long as favoritism exists, national strategic special zones will be meaningless,” Koike said.

Koike previously maintained a cautious distance from Abe, but she now has adopted a more confrontational stance.

Koike has so far been involved in the formation of the Japan New Party, the New Frontier Party, the Liberal Party and the New Conservative Party, and has sometimes been ridiculed as a “migratory bird” that changes with the wind.

Nevertheless, she served in important posts while in the Liberal Democratic Party. For instance, she was environment minister in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and defense minister in the first Cabinet led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At a lecture Wednesday, Koizumi said: “Her behavior sometimes can’t be understood by ordinary people. She has guts, and I think she has good intuition.”

In the 2005 lower house election featuring the privatization of Japan’s postal service, Koizumi fielded Koike as an “assassin candidate” against a former LDP member opposed to postal privatization.

Koizumi said he advised her to finish her current term as Tokyo governor. Recalling the launch of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1994, however, Koizumi said: “Unexpected things happen in power games. In the political world, today’s enemy can be tomorrow’s friend. At a certain point, differences on policy don’t matter.”Speech

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