One of Yuriko Koike’s lesser goals was vengeance on the Tokyo chapter of the Liberal Democratic party © EPA
Deep in the heart of Tokyo, a political assassination has gone awry. The 8th district, a dense residential swath of Suginami ward, is home to Nobuteru Ishihara: ruling party kingpin, eldest son of the city’s former governor and one of Yuriko Koike’s arch-enemies.
When Ms Koike, Tokyo’s governor, unexpectedly plunged into Japan’s general election late last month, launching a new political movement called the Party of Hope, one of her lesser goals was vengeance on the Tokyo chapter of the Liberal Democratic party. She left the party last year to run for and win the Tokyo governorship.
But following Ms Koike’s decision not to stand herself, even though the opposition Democratic party has disbanded on her behalf, the voters drifting out of Ogikubo station seem in no mood to indulge her.
“Two weeks ago we were booming, last week we were down, now I don’t know what’s happening,” says Takatane Kiuchi, taking a break from greeting voters as they leave the station’s south exit. “It’s not too bad, but it’s not like two weeks ago.”
Mr Kiuchi is a founder member of the Party of Hope, handpicked by Ms Koike and parachuted in from the neighbouring 9th district, which he used to represent as a Democrat. “Nobuteru Ishihara was one of the biggest candidates that Koike-san wanted to beat.”
The aim was to repeat what Ms Koike did this summer. Fighting on an anti-establishment platform, her little-known candidates almost wiped out the LDP in elections to the Tokyo assembly. Her lead candidate in Suginami ward polled almost 40,000 votes, comfortably beating 28,000 for the top LDP runner, and for a brief moment polls suggested the Party of Hope could do it again in the general election.
The biggest shift in the public mood, according to Mr Kiuchi, came when Ms Koike excluded the more liberal ex-Democrats from her new party. “We didn’t want it to look like a second Democratic party so she had to say we’re not inviting everyone in,” he says. For the public, however, it was a ruthless step too far.
The forces unleashed by Ms Koike’s demolition of the Democrats can be found at the north exit to Ogikubo station, where Harumi Yoshida — a 45 year-old ex-stockbroker — is giving a high energy speech on behalf of the new Constitutional Democratic party, a breakaway group of liberals rejected by the Party of Hope.
Ms Yoshida was the Democratic candidate for the 8th district, and in contrast to Mr Kiuchi, she has been working the territory for a couple of years. A large crew of pink-jacketed volunteers hand leaflets to passers-by as she assails prime minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies for failing to put more yen into the average worker’s pocket.
“Originally all the Democrats were going to the Party of Hope,” she says, but then Ms Koike started vetting them on support for national security laws. “That’s different to what I’d been arguing.” The new CPDJ has changed public perceptions, she says. “With the Democrats, we had our core support. Now I really feel our support is spreading.”
One voter, who engages Mr Kiuchi in a long conversation but declines to give his name, says he voted for Ms Koike in last year’s gubernatorial election — his first ever vote for a conservative candidate — and is considering the Party of Hope this time around.
But Hideki Chaen is the kind of voter who may doom the Party of Hope’s campaign. “Ms Koike’s new party has livened things up, but fundamentally she’s part of the same group as Mr Abe, so there would be no real change,” he says. Mr Chaen declines to say how he will vote but says he has hopes for the Constitutional Democrats.
National polls suggest the LDP is on course for an easy victory, winning more than 200 of the 289 first-past-the-post constituencies, with the Party of Hope struggling to gain any seats beyond those held by defecting Democrats.
One beneficiary of it all is likely to be Mr Ishihara, who has held Tokyo’s 8th and its predecessor since 1990. “Little by little, the public reaction is getting better,” he says. “The governor has set up a new party and to start with public expectations were high, but the atmosphere is changing.”
Mr Ishihara says he “doesn’t really understand” why Ms Koike has targeted him. “On the other hand, my supporters are urging me not to lose to the governor.”