Koike shakes up Japan vote

Yuriko Koike © Getty images
Yuriko Koike is out to challenge Shinzo Abe

“Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has never been more secure in his power,” says Isabella Steger for Quartz. With the main opposition party in “total disarray” and Abe enjoying a poll boost on the back of the North Korea crisis, it is easy to see why he has decided to hold a snap election next month. “That was until popular Tokyo mayor Yuriko Koike, 65, stepped into the ring and announced the formation of a new political party.” The former defence minister’s new “party of hope” has already attracted defectors from other groupings, including Abe’s own ranks.

Koike has entered the fray with her “trademark blend of risk-taking, ruthlessness” and “political theatre”, says Robin Harding in the Financial Times, transforming a boring election into “a contest between the country’s two most powerful politicians”. Analysts question whether Koike’s fledgling party has the resources to mount a national campaign at such short notice and whether the public will forgive her for treating the Tokyo governorship so casually. Yet her vows to free politics of “vested interests” hark back to “the anti-establishment platform that brought her success in Tokyo” and the media seem to be lapping it up. “Abe may have miscalculated.”

Still, Abe and Koike’s politics are more similar than the presentation would have you think, says Tsubasa Suruga in the Nikkei Asian Review. Koike has previously served under the conservative Abe as defence minister, and her new outfit is “conservative at its core”. She also shares with Abe a strong commitment to tackling the threat posed by North Korea. “The biggest disagreement is over the consumption tax. Abe has pledged to follow through on a plan to raise the rate” in 2019 to fund new social spending, but Koike wants to put the increase on hold until the economy improves. There are also indications that she is more hostile to nuclear power than the prime minister, in a country which (understandably) still has vivid memories of the 2011 Fukushima meltdown.