Japan calls snap election as new party roils outlook

September 28, 2017 - 6:05 PM
Shinzo Abe, inset Yuriko Koike
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, political rival Yuriko Koike in inset. Photograph: REUTERS

TOKYO – A fledgling party led by popular Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike gained momentum Thursday ahead of an Oct. 22 election as the biggest opposition Democratic Party said it would step aside to let its candidates run under her conservative, reformist banner.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative who returned to power in 2012, hopes a recent boost in voter support will help his Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition maintain a simple majority. It now holds a two-thirds “super” majority.

But Koike’s new Party of Hope, only formally launched on Wednesday, has upended the outlook for the election after the former LDP member announced she would lead it herself.

“I’m someone who is always ready to take action,” Koike told a news conference where she spoke about her achievements since taking office as governor a year ago.

A media-savvy former defense minister whose name has often been floated to be Japan’s first female prime minister, Koike said she would not run for a seat herself, although speculation persists that she will.

Democratic Party executives said they would not run candidates of their own and would let members run under the Party of Hope banner.

The party has struggled to overcome rock-bottom ratings, defections and an image tainted by its rocky stint in power from 2009 to 2012.