Tokyo Governor Hopes Her New 'Party Of Hope' Will Shake Up Japanese Politics : Parallels Yuriko Koike, the best known woman in Japanese politics, started a new party ahead of Sunday's snap election for parliament. But it's having trouble distinguishing itself from the ruling party.

Tokyo Governor Hopes Her New 'Party Of Hope' Will Shake Up Japanese Politics

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Voters in Japan have just days left to decide which candidates they'll support in a snap general election called by the prime minister. Japanese politics are usually pretty tame. But as NPR's Elise Hu reports, the charismatic governor of Tokyo is giving things a jolt.

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YURIKO KOIKE: Konnichiwa.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is keeping a nonstop schedule these days, dashing from one campaign event to another. Last Friday, rain didn't keep her from revving up crowds at rush hour in Shibuya, the Tokyo district renowned for the giant crush of people at it's street crossing.

KOIKE: (Speaking Japanese).

HU: Let us look at what we can do now to change Japan and dare ourselves to do so, Koike said of her Kibo no To party which translates to Party of Hope. It is brand new, constituting itself just weeks ago to challenge the ruling party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Koike started the Party of Hope after the former opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan, fell apart.

TOBIAS HARRIS: For seizing the issues and recognizing maybe that there was a window of opportunity, I think she deserves a good deal of credit.

HU: That's Tobias Harris, a Japan analyst with Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm. He describes Koike as a savvy politician and a telegenic former news broadcaster. She used to be aligned with Prime Minister Abe, serving before in his cabinet and as a member of his party. But things went sour. She ran for Tokyo governor as an independent. And now she's taking the unusual step of leading a party even though she's not running for a parliamentary seat herself.

HARRIS: One wonders the extent to which it's personal in the fact that she had been - basically had been shunted off to the side. And this is her revenge.

HU: As one of the rare female leaders in Japan, she stands out. Japan ranks near the bottom of all countries when it comes to gender equality, especially among its political and business elite. One of the Koike supporters we found in the crowd, Naoko Shimazaki, put it this way.

NAOKO SHIMAZAKI: (Through interpreter) That she's able to succeed as a woman and since she's promoting the appointment of women, I think that's a positive trend for business and society in general.

HU: The talk about quickly running for prime minister someday is quite common in Japanese politics. Taro Oguchi is a 19-year-old student getting ready to vote for only the second time in his life.

TARO OGUCHI: (Through interpreter) Whatever happens with this election, I think that if Ms. Koike could become a possible candidate for prime minister, I'd like to support her.

HU: As governor, she has the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, a high-profile priority for the country. But that doesn't mean she won't try and jump back into parliament before then. And there's no sign she's slowing down now. The stop in Shibuya was one of the seven or eight public events she has scheduled daily in the run-up to Sunday's balloting.

KOIKE: (Speaking Japanese).

HU: We in the Party of Hope are not trying to be left or right but right in the center, Koike says, concluding her stump speech. But that, analysts say, is actually part of the problem. Not presenting enough of a difference between her party and the prime minister's means voters lack a clear policy alternative - Tobias Harris.

HARRIS: If the alternative appears to be there, voters will turn out. But if it's not, they'll stay home.

HU: And that is the opposite of hope - Elise Hu, NPR News.

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