Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s new political party is leading the race for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election to take place tomorrow, July 2. The Liberal Democratic Party is a close second but might lose out as Koike’s Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) and Komeito have forged an alliance (despite the fact that Komeito is Abe’s coalition partner on the national level. (For more background see Nikkei Asian Review)

The approval rate of Abe’s cabinet has recently declined to 48% as a result of various scandals. And Abe is concerned about further plunges at a time when preparations for his pet project constitutional reform move into high gear.

Political opposition on the national level is basically non-existing with a dyfunctional Democratic Party and no serious inner-LDP contender in sight. But Abe must be aware.

Koike is not only a smart woman but she is also riding on a wave of popularity she has gained through her well-executed positioning as a challenger to the old political system, read LDP.

Sounds familiar? Just think of Koizumi’s approach of becoming a powerful leader by threatening to destroy the old LDP structures.

Koike is “only” active on the Tokyo level. Tomorrow is “only” a regional election. But her positioning and popularity are gaining steam in an impressive way.

And we all know that Tokyo is more than just the capital of Japan. And Koike’s chances to steal the limelight will only grow the closer we get to the Tokyo Olympic Games that are only three more years away.

The LDP is scared to lose out in the Tokyo Metropolitan election but has decided to not leverage Prime Minister Abe for drumming up support for the LDP. Doing so and being defeated would be too much a burden for Abe on the national level.

Instead Defense Miniser Tomomi Inada went out in a campaign speech for the LDP candidate and said: “On behalf of the Defense Ministry, the SDF and the LDP, I ask for your support” earlier this week. Doing so she might have hoped to step up instead of and in the interest of Abe and his LDP.

What a misjudgement! What a gaffe! She had to issue a formal apology as she completely ignored the need for the SDF to be neutral politically and personally keep a distance from politics while serving in an organization that uses force.

The usually LDP-friendly Yomiuri Shimbun put out a very clear editorial and bluntly criticized her with the words “Her remarks are too careless and inappropriate. She lacks awareness as chief of the Self-Defense Forces.”

Inada might avoid resignation this time but she has severely damaged her reputation and as such indirectly that of her boss Prime Minister Abe. Abe himself has once backed her proclaiming her as “a future candidate for prime minister”.

Oops. This no longer looks even a remote option. And the other woman, read Koike, only gains in standing by such missteps.

Abe and the LDP will lead and govern Japan also after July 2, nothing will change in the short or mid term. But much further down the road, we might look back to 2 July 2017 as an important date for Japan politics on the national level, and not only for the tiny town of Tokyo.

Jochen Legewie

Jochen Legewie

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