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Saturday, Sep. 15, 2012

EDITORIAL

Mayor Hashimoto goes national

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, also head of Osaka Ishin-no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association), a local party, on Sept. 12 declared the establishment of Nippon Ishin-no Kai (Japan Restoration Party). Basically his local party was upgraded a party for national-level politics.

The new party reportedly hopes to field 350 to 400 candidates in a coming Lower House election. Clearly targeting the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the No. 1 opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Mr. Hashimoto said that his party's raison d'etre is to provide a third choice for people.

Although Mr. Hashimoto later retracted the statement, he once said that an election is giving a sort of carte blanche to the elected. This kind of thinking can lead the elected to believe that they have been invested with full power and can carry out politics as they wish, ignoring the true will of the people.

Clearly, the public and the mass media must continuously scrutinize his behavior and actions. As there is a possibility that Nippon Ishin-no Kai could win a considerable number of seats in the Lower House, voters should also keep in mind Mr. Hashimoto's "carte blanche" remarks when they cast their ballots.

The party has a plank called Ishin Hassaku (Eight Policies for Restoration), a list of more than 200 policy items ranging from a system of governance to economic policy, social welfare, education and diplomacy. These items are more like the expression of broad ideas rather than election promises. Mr. Hashimoto said he won't adopt a manifesto with clear numerical goals and road maps to achieve the goals, as the DPJ did in the 2009 Lower House election, because the task of politicians should be "limited to showing directions."

The strong point of a manifesto like the DPJ's is that it enables voters to concretely determine whether the party in question has kept its promises. Mr. Hashimoto's approach will deprive voters of this opportunity. If his party wins in an election, he may insist that the voters have given his party carte blanche concerning each item of the plank. But how many voters will read each item and completely understand them before casting their ballots?

People who are facing economic difficulties may be attracted to Nippon Ishin-no Kai. But its economic policy is basically market fundamentalism as pursued by the administration of the LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The party's policy could result in an expansion of the nation's temporary workforce.

The plank calls for introducing do-shu sei, a system that would divide Japan into several regions, each having its own government. Such a system could deprive existing local governments of power and funds, while creating big local governments that will remain distant from average citizens. There is also no guarantee that such regional governments will have able bureaucrats.

Mr. Hashimoto's political style is to target something as an enemy and attack it. The party plank has chosen the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution as such a target and calls for a plebiscite on whether to change the article. This is a dangerous move that could undermine the foundation of postwar Japan. Given the current international situation surrounding Japan, there is a risk that peoples' sentiments could be driven more by emotion than good sense.

Mr. Hashimoto will remain the mayor of Osaka, but as party head, he will have the power to control members of his party in the Diet. This means that he may control a sizable portion of the Diet from Osaka without being elected to the Diet. Voters must go beyond this popular mayor's sound bites and carefully consider the real meaning of what he says.



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