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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hashimoto backpedals on poll threat

Oi reactor stance seen as way to leverage Osaka merger, nixing need for party to field candidates


Staff writer

OSAKA — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has indicated his political group will not field candidates in the next general election if a bill to merge the prefecture with his city is passed in the current Diet session.

News photo
Toru Hashimoto

"If the bill becomes law, there would be no reason to aggressively select candidates in a national election," Hashimoto said Friday. "What would be the point of Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) doing so?"

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan and opposition groups, including the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and Your Party, have submitted legislation to consolidate the Osaka prefectural and municipal bureaucracies and restructure the new entity along the lines of Tokyo's metropolitan government.

Hashimoto said the original purpose for creating Osaka Ishin no Kai was to pressure the Diet to pass a bill over the merger.

"Therefore, unless we come up with new policy goals, there's no justification for having candidates campaign for seats in the next Lower House election," Hashimoto said.

His announcement came just before Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda faced the media Friday to stress the importance of reactivating reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. The mayor had vigorously opposed any restarts of nuclear plants in the Kansai region, but eased his stance last week.

Critics charge that Hashimoto, who has also toned down his harsh criticism of the DPJ in recent days, was only using the Oi reactor issue as political leverage to force Noda to pass the merger bill.

But if the Diet approves the move during the current session through June 21 and Hashimoto elects not to field candidates at the next poll, Osaka Ishin no Kai and his supporters in both Osaka and around Japan would find themselves in a bind.

Hashimoto's school for Diet aspirants ended its first term last month, and the more than 2,000 students are expected to be whittled down to between 800 and 1,000 by the end of the month.

The original plan was to teach them political campaigning strategies between now and December, and to field up to 300 in the next general election.

The school's political agenda is based on a series of eight policy planks that Hashimoto announced in March, including an emphasis on greater local autonomy, bureaucratic reforms and fundamental revisions of the central government, including the possible abolition of the Upper House and direct elections for prime ministers.

A decision to abandon the students, who are competing to become Osaka Ishin no Kai candidates in the next Lower House vote, may also put Hashimoto at odds with the group, especially Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui.

The governor wants Osaka Ishin no kai to become a national political party or to tie up with emerging political groups in other regions that have been inspired by Hashimoto's success.

Osaka politicians and pundits have noted signs of strain between Hashimoto and Matsui in recent weeks.

For instance, the governor angered Hashimoto by declaring his opposition to a total reactivation of the Oi reactors and stressing that a declaration by the Union of Kansai Governments that he signed in May only calls on the central government to approve a provisional, limited restart.

Hashimoto, on the other hand, considers the declaration a de facto agreement for resuming operations at the Oi power plant.



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The Japan Times

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