In Tokyo’s governor race, all eyes have been on former House of Representatives Member Yuriko Koike ever since she revealed her intentions to run for the prestigious position 2 weeks ago. Sparked by the resignation of scandal-marred Yoichi Masuzoe, this election has turned into an epic battle between Koike, a well-known veteran LDP politician who is currently estranged from the LDP, Shuntaro Torigoe, a long-time political commentator backed by a coalition of opposition parties, and Hiroya Masuda, a career bureaucrat & former Governor of Iwate Prefecture backed by the LDP.
With Koike currently the front-runner in the People’s Court of public opinion, we thought we’d offer a bit of information on her career and campaign. From the start, her resolve was clear, as she announced she would run regardless of LDP support. Most are aware that she has played a large role in the world of Japanese politics, but what kind of person is she, and how did she manage to shatter the glass ceiling (or, “iron plate” as Koike calls it) that is so prominent in Japan, particularly in politics?
Koike is known for thinking (and stepping) outside of the box, something quite uncommon in a country that religiously follows tradition. Pursuing an unconventional path even prior to entering the political realm, she moved to Egypt for university, earning her BA at The American University in Cairo. Upon returning to Japan, her rise to popularity began upon entering the fashionable world of TV news as an anchor for the hit daily program “World Business Satellite”.
Her political career began when she was elected to the House of Councilors in 1992 as a founding member of the short-lived, liberal Japan New Party. When the JNP disbanded in 1994, the members, including Koike, joined the New Frontier Party where she was named the Assistant Secretary as well as Director of the party’s International Affairs Bureau. In 1993 she made the switch to the Lower House when she was elected as a representative of Hyogo prefecture and preserved her position there for many years.
The New Frontier Party disbanded in 1997, and Koike followed Ichiro Ozawa as he founded the Liberal Party. Soon after in 2000, she became a founding member of the New Conservative Party. Despite her public distaste of the Liberal Democratic Party, she became a member in 2002, possibly because she knew she would achieve much more if she joined forces with the “big guys”. But her progression up to this point should signify at least one very important fact about Japanese politics: parties can easily coalesce and then fade away at ludicrous speed.
Koike’s move to the LDP worked beautifully in her favor: former Prime Minister Koizumi clearly saw her political acumen, and named her Special Advisor to the PM on National Security. She was appointed Minister of the Environment as well as Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territory Affairs. In 2007 she was then appointed as Minister of Defense, probably the most honorable of positions she held so far at the time of her career.
Her decision to go commando seems to have worked in her favor. The LDP is not shy about announcing their dissatisfaction with her candidacy, and even went as far as to threaten expulsion of LDP members who publicly support Koike’s campaign, but they cannot change the reality that she is the best known candidate. With all the commotion her decision has caused, the instability of the LDP is becoming all the more apparent. Their hand-picked candidate Hiroya Masuda’s numbers are low, and the LDP’s usual conquer-by-force technique of sending scores of heavy hitters to aid their candidate isn’t happening as everyone in the LDP HQ is exhausted from the Upper House campaign.
Who’s to say that things won’t heat up even further in the final days of the election? In fact, we’re willing to bet they already have: Torigoe’s not looking like such a stallion for the opposition after a scandalous account of his failed attempt to coerce a young female college student into having sex with him (we’ve never heard this one before!) was released by the Great Destroyer, Shukan Bunshun.
In our next post, we will continue by delving into the current beef between Koike and the Abe Administration.