In a sense, it certainly seems that the goals of the Koike administration over the past year have all been focused on July’s electoral victories in the Tokyo Assembly. There has been an obvious decision to prioritize politics over policy. One of Koike’s campaign promises, dissolving the assembly once it is convened, was meant to expose the opaque decision-making process of a government body that worked in collusion with the governor and whose strings continued to be pulled by specific party bosses, thus breaking the LDP’s hold over its operations. Practically speaking, Koike’s landslide victory in the races achieved that aim.
Immediately after securing the governorship, we were treated to the performance of Koike halving her own salary in order to put the excessive compensation of assembly members in stark relief. As a means of countering old-school LDP politics, Koike set up her own private political school, Kibo no Juku (School of Hope) to develop political protégés and placed them under her regional political group Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), using these organizations to pump her candidates into the Tokyo Assembly elections.
These actions likely stem from Koike’s view of the problem, which is that she “can’t govern without replacing a sizable portion of the Tokyo Assembly.” And she was prepared to win the elections by any means necessary. Just before the announcements for Tokyo Assembly election, when the Tsukiji issue was a major point of contention, Koike held an impromptu press conference under the slogan “Make Toyosu work! Save Tsukiji!” without consulting anyone. She simply said that Tsukiji would also be redeveloped in five years’ time after moving the market to Toyosu, and neither grounds for funding nor the specifics of redevelopment were revealed.
It would be correct to consider this as her election strategy to collect all votes of both pro-Toyosu and anti-Toyosu groups which were then deeply divided. Koike’s arbitrary decision also warded off criticism that she’s a governor who can’t make up her mind, and effectively secured the election results she wanted. What she didn’t expect, however, was the dark shadow it would cast over subsequent municipal government operations.
We’ve now seen a year of the Koike administration. The information disclosure, Olympic budget cuts and venue changes in the interest of cost reductions, and efforts to introduce transparency to the Toyosu relocation process are commendable. At the same time, however, Koike’s independent decision to postpone the move has eroded the confidence of Tsukiji traders and damaged the reputation of Toyosu by spreading nationwide rumors about its unsuitability. Koike’s snap decisions have also cost her trust among other prefectural governors, as when she was forced to retract her off-the-cuff statement that the canoe and rowing venue would be moved to Miyagi Prefecture.
In any case, Koike’s goal of disrupting the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly LDP, which she had deemed as the main agenda of the Tokyo administration reform since she first took office, was accomplished with her sweeping victories in the assembly elections on July 2. She may have succeeded in creating an imaginary foe and taking it on herself in the name of justice, undercutting the LDP and party bosses’ hold on the assembly through political marketing tactics—but this approach won’t work going forward. Why not? Because Koike is out of enemies. If anything, her next opponent is likely to be the seeds of discord that she’s sown herself. No matter what happens, though, we’re sure to see the end of the Koike Theater that has kept the public in a frenzy thus far.
The Mainichi Newspaper ran a chart scoring the Koike administration’s first year according to three political experts—Shiro Asano, Hiroko Ogiwara, and me.
When it came to specific issues, I rated her fairly generously with a 5 on information disclosure, 3 on Tsukiji-related issues, and a 4 on assembly reform; however, my overall rating was much harsher at 3.5 out of 5.