Monday, October 2, 2017

Tracking Koike's Ambition 1

Tracking Koike's Ambition 1

This will be a blog within the blog. Japan is in election mode (again) and the stakes are quite high. PM Abe, seeking to take advantage of a dishevelled opposition, called a snap election last week. It has almost immediately backfired for him. Or maybe not. 

The opposition parties have held all the attention this past week, not in the least, the machinations of Koike Yuriko, presently Governor of Tokyo but with clear ambition to take up the leading role of Prime Minister of Japan. One day. 

On Thursday last week, I was interviewed by Eleni Psaltis of Australia's ABC NewsRadio for her Japan podcast. I feared that by the end of the interview, events had moved so quickly that the content might be immediately dated. Having thought about it, and given the ambition of Koike, I have decided to set aside some time each day to try and pen some observations. 

I have observed Koike's political career since her entree in the early 1990s, drafted by Hosokawa for one of the new opposition parties. Her strategy last year to leave the national political arena to run (and win) the governorship of Tokyo can only be seen in the context of her prime ministerial ambitions. The lure of being Governor at the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 is surely quite strong; and yet, will the sniff of prime ministerial opportunity see her expend political capital (as governor) for naked ambition?

She has seen electoral success at the Tokyo metropolitan level, candidates associated with her group enjoyed resounding success at the elections in July. Can this be replicated at the national level? Koike is not 'populist' in the sense of the word as it is parlayed at present: she is not drawing on a block of disaffected, underemployed, hyper-nationalist people in the way Trump or Pauline Hanson exploit. She is conservative, in the style of Theresa May, perhaps, or Julie Bishop, in Australia, but not so ideological that she couldn't change her mind on policies as the breeze determines. A member of the right-wing nationalist Nippon Kaigi (a group with similar influence in Australia would be the IPA), she has supported constitutional reform, stronger militarisation and resumption of nuclear power plants...and yet, her first policy announcement last week included a policy of fading out nuclear power plants. 

Koike's party is the 'Kibo no To', Party of Hope. The ailing Minshinto, the Democrats, have effectively disbanded, encouraging members to stand with Koike's party. 

But not so fast.

Some Democrat Party members have criticised fairly new leader Maehara for dissolving the party this way; for Maehara, it was an option seen as 'the only way to defeat the Abe Govt'. In the last 48 hours though, Koike has made it clear that she has a list of people who will be suitable to join the party and a list considered 'too liberal'. In his haste for a Faustian bargain (for Maehara, a chance at riding Koike's popularity wave, for Koike, a national network of candidates where previously she has been limited to the Tokyo region) Maehara may well have created a schism too divided to be effective. 

There will be much to tease out until the night of the election, three weeks from today, 22 October. In addition to having followed Koike's career for many years, this work is the subject of a grant application which will seek to understand the environment in which women in Japan engage in politics at the national level. If journalists write the first draft of history, I suppose academic bloggers writing daily posts might well be trying to imitate that craft while waiting for the theoretical and analytical overlay to kick in. 

These posts will, by their very nature, be observational for the time being. Here, I simply want to record this election campaign as it unfolds; thinking out loud and posting at the same time. 

It seems like a moment is here. And it is worth watching at close quarters.