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Saturday, Sep. 1, 2012
Hashimoto to lead his national party but will remain mayor
OSAKA — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto will head a new national party that he and his Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) local political group aim to form before the next general election, Osaka Ishin no Kai officials said Friday.
However, Hashimoto has repeatedly stated he will not run in the next Lower House election himself, raising questions over who would represent his national party in the Diet.
The news that Hashimoto will serve as leader of the new party comes as the mayor and influential supporters in both Osaka and Tokyo plan to meet over the coming week with a growing number of Diet members and others who they hope to tap as candidates for a Lower House poll.
Osaka Ishin no Kai plans to formally announce its plans to create a national party Sept. 8, Hashimoto said Friday.
A public debate is scheduled to be held the following day in Osaka between Osaka Ishin no Kai, Diet lawmakers and local politicians, and will be attended by Hashimoto's political allies and financial backers. Local Osaka media and the mayor's supporters are dubbing it Japan's political — and social — event of the year.
"A lot of people who have said they support Hashimoto are now nervous, awaiting an invitation. But we're in a position to pick and choose," an Osaka Ishin no Kai member, who requested to remain anonymous, told reporters earlier in the week.
The debate, which will focus on Osaka Ishin no Kai's political platform for the envisioned national party, will also serve as an opportunity to confirm the support of old allies — or to part ways with them. In recent weeks, Hashimoto's relations with longtime supporters Yoshimi Watanabe, head of Your Party, and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who heads the local Genzai Nippon (Tax Reduction Japan) group but has designs to go national, have been strained.
Your Party, which has five members in the House of Representatives and 11 in the Upper House, appeared in danger of splitting apart this week after three members indicated they wish to join Hashimoto's new party. Meanwhile, Kawamura's differences with Osaka Ishin no Kai over the tax system have been deepening, but Nagoya's mayor is still expected to participate in the debate.
On Friday, eight Diet members from several parties, including the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party, met in Tokyo to discuss a potential tieup with Hashimoto. The group is expected to form a study panel next week to formally examine the possibility of cooperating with Hashimoto's new party. Most, if not all, of the lawmakers will travel to Osaka for the public debate.
Osaka Ishin no Kai remains confident its national party — which would aim to field 300 candidates nationwide and hope to win 200 Diet seats in the next election — will capture around 50 Lower House seats in the Kansai region alone. Pundits in the national media predict Hashimoto-backed candidates could grab anywhere from 80 to 130 seats in a national vote.
It also has agreed not to run in six Kansai electoral districts where New Komeito plans to field its own candidates, because the two groups are currently cooperating to form a majority in the Osaka Municipal Assembly.