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Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

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Aspiring to greatness: Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto raises a toast at a fundraising party in Osaka on Jan. 20. KYODO PHOTOS

How far can Hashimoto ride wave?

Creating national alliance faces choppy seas

Staff writers

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's political fortunes in and out of Osaka continue to rise, as a growing number of local- and national-level politicians seek his cooperation to form what could well be the ruling coalition after the next Lower House election.

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Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara holds a news conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Jan. 27.

But key policy differences mean a group of local-level parties taking control of national politics is far from certain.

Since Hashimoto and his ally, Ichiro Matsui, won the mayoral and gubernatorial elections in November, the mayor and his local group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), have moved quickly to shore up existing alliances and lay plans for fielding or supporting up to 300 candidates in the next Lower House election.

Over the past month, Hashimoto has been in discussions with old allies, including Your Party's Yoshimi Watanabe and Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who have made it clear they want to cooperate with Hashimoto in the next campaign.

"We have the same agenda as Osaka Ishin no Kai. And therefore, we shall take action together," Watanabe said at his party's convention Sunday.

Meanwhile, another force led by hawkish Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara is making its way into the spotlight. Together with Shizuka Kamei, leader of Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party), the Democratic Party of Japan's junior coalition partner, and the ultraconservative Takeo Hiranuma, they intend to collect conservatives from the Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ.

"We need to shuffle the political structure of the Diet," Ishihara said recently. "Tokyo is important to me. But the state is more important than Tokyo."

Omura, following the creation of a similar group by Hashimoto, established Tokai Taishi Juku (Tokai Aspiration School), which will back candidates in the next Lower House race.

"A union between Tokyo, Aichi and Osaka will change Japan, and will destroy the system that concentrates power in Tokyo," Omura said Tuesday at a meeting in Kamei's Tokyo office attended by about 20 politicians from the LDP, DPJ and New Komeito.

On Thursday, Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, a close ally of Omura, joined the bandwagon for creating new political groups, saying he will establish his own and decide specifics by month's end.

Despite the rhetoric, major hurdles remain before new national parties led by Hashimoto, Omura and Kawamura, and Ishihara would agree to cooperate in the event they form either the majority, or a plurality, following a Lower House election.

As Osaka-based journalist Yuji Yoshitomi, who has written extensively about the rise of Hashimoto, noted, key policy differences are causing friction.

"On issues like raising the consumption tax, Ishihara and Hashimoto have very different views from Nagoya Mayor Kawamura. Kawamura is strongly against raising taxes, while Hashimoto and Ishihara are not," Yoshitomi said.

"In addition, Hashimoto's views on energy, especially nuclear power, are different from Ishihara's. Hashimoto wants to get out of nuclear power, but Ishihara has said it's necessary. Finally, there is the question of what kind of a foreign policy a coalition of parties led by Hashimoto, Ishihara and Omura would pursue. The reality is that Hashimoto, at least, has given no thought to foreign policy but has a reputation for being pro-China, while Ishihara, clearly, is not," Yoshitomi said.

Despite polls showing that voter concern over the sales tax hike will be a key campaign issue, Hashimoto said Tuesday his group is drawing up a platform for the next Lower House poll that in any event won't touch on reducing taxes. Hashimoto said that while he wants to cooperate with Omura and Kawamura, if they seek to raise taxes, agreeing to a coalition would be unlikely.

"However, even if the central government doesn't raise the consumption tax, we should push for a system that allows local governments to raise the tax. Of course, the central government has to decide the overall tax margin for the country. But we need a national system that makes clear the authority and responsibility of local governments," Hashimoto said.

To overcome these differences, Omura has called on Hashimoto and Ishihara to meet in Nagoya sometime this month, but no date has been set.

While Hashimoto's Osaka Ishin no Kai is a regional political group, Hashimoto will in March establish Ishin Seiji Juku (Political Restoration School), which aims to train politicians, especially Diet hopefuls, but members of the public can also join. Via the new body, Hashimoto's group hopes to recruit candidates for the Lower House, where it aims to capture 200 seats.

Yoshitomi said it's likely to attract a fair number of disgruntled LDP members and perhaps DPJ members loyal to Ichiro Ozawa, whose political philosophy Hashimoto largely shares. If Hashimoto's group does win 200 seats, Yoshitomi said, established parties like New Komeito would likely agree to a tieup if it meant being part of a ruling coalition.

But the "love call," as Yoshitomi put it, that politicians are making to Hashimoto has come under increased criticism from people like Yasuharu Ishizawa, president of Gakushuin Women's College in Tokyo and a professor of politics and media.

"Instead of being policy-oriented, these lawmakers are just trying to latch onto Hashimoto's popularity. This movement represents the current state of politics — to depend on the wind of popularity," said Ishizawa.

"Whether Hashimoto's group will have social meaning is another question. I hope the movement leads to a political realignment, but nothing good will come out of it if it just causes more political confusion and turmoil," Ishizawa said.

Yoshitomi believes that even if Hashimoto's party were to be the ruling party or part of a ruling bloc, its power would be short-lived.

"The reality is, Hashimoto and his party are amateurs. They'd end up like the DPJ, which came into power in 2009 with great expectations but is likely to break up after the next election."

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