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Sunday, Sep. 9, 2012

Defections to Osaka mayor's new political force expected to climb

Hashimoto sets new national party, names it Nippon Ishin no Kai


Staff writer

OSAKA — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's new national party, Nippon Ishin no Kai, or the Japan Restoration Party, was announced Saturday at a meeting of his local party, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka).

News photo
Dynamic duo: Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui walks behind Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto as an Osaka Ishin no Kai meeting gets under way Saturday. KYODO

The new party aims to capture a majority of the 480 seats in the next Lower House election, for which preparations are continuing to accelerate.

The party decided that Hashimoto will be the head of the new party and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, secretary general of Osaka Ishin no Kai, will be the secretary general of the national party until the next Lower House election.

"After the national election, the party will vote for who it wants to lead it," Hashimoto said after the meeting, which was attended by politicians in the Osaka Municipal and Prefectural assemblies, as well as the Sakai Municipal Assembly.

It is most likely that Hashimoto will be elected as the party chief.

But Hashimoto said he won't run for a seat in the Diet, raising the prospect of the head of the ruling party being not the prime minister but mayor of Osaka.

"There are a lot of things I have to do as Osaka mayor to realize the creation of one Osaka political entity," Hashimoto said.

The name of the new party was decided after Hashimoto consulted with senior officials of his local group, including Matsui.

Internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, a Lower House member of the Democratic Party of Japan, heads a political group that already goes by the name Nippon Ishin no Kai, but Matsui said there will be no problems using it.

"It was important to keep the word 'restoration' in the party name and I don't think it's a problem to call it Nippon Ishin no Kai because it's a national party" and there will be little cause for confusion, Matsui told reporters Friday evening.

In addition, Hashimoto and Matsui reached an agreement with New Komeito not to field candidates in nine districts the Buddhist-backed party plans to contest. These include four districts in Osaka Prefecture, two in Hyogo, and one in each in Hokkaido, Tokyo and Kanagawa.

Osaka Ishin no Kai has a close relationship with New Komeito and must cooperate with it in the Osaka Municipal Assembly to form a majority. Cooperation after the Lower House election can be expected as well.

In his opening remarks at a meeting Saturday of the local group, Hashimoto, 43, thanked the members for their efforts to support the merger between the city of Osaka and the prefecture. He said those efforts kept pressure on the Diet to pass legislation last month that paves the way toward that goal. But the mayor said there is still work to be done at both the local and national level, including drafting a detailed merger plan and putting it to a referendum.

"The problem of the separation between Osaka and Osaka Prefecture is one that goes back to the Meiji Era. This created lots of friction between the prefectural and city assemblies and bureaucracies. Overcoming this divide is why we created Osaka Ishin no Kai," Hashimoto said.

But Osaka Ishin no Kai realized that many national regulations stood in the way, and that the central political and bureaucratic systems were not functioning because the politicians in Nagata-cho and the bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki were blocking change, he said.

"Thus, to continue to realize the goal of one Osaka, we have to reform Japan," Hashimoto said. "For localities around Japan to stand on their own, we realized that we had to change the way things were being done at the national level."

As of Saturday morning, seven Diet members from both chambers were planning to defect to the Japan Restoration Party.

From the DPJ they included Lower House members Yorihisa Matsuno and Takashi Ishizeki, and Upper House member Masahi Mito.

Others were Your Party members Fumiki Sakurauchi, Hiroshi Ueno and Shinji Oguma of the Upper House, and Kinki region Liberal Democratic Party member Kenta Matsunami of the Lower House.

All seven men were expected to be in Osaka on Sunday for a public debate on the Japan Restoration Party's campaign platform, which it released at the end of August.

Former Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru, former Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakata and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura are also expected to participate.

The Japan Restoration Party is expected to be officially up and running after Osaka Ishin no Kai holds a fundraising party next Wednesday.

Sunday's debate will center on its campaign platform, which is officially called the Eight Point Restoration plan.

It emphasizes smaller government, decentralization, and fundamental reform of the tax system, including turning the nationwide consumption tax into a regional tax.

The Lower House would be halved to 240 seats, with the office of prime minister open to public election.

A number of bureaucratic reforms designed to wrest power from the bureaucrats and return it to politicians will be discussed Sunday, including the creation of new Cabinet-level positions that would have greater authority over budgetary matters.

On foreign policy and defense, participants will reaffirm the importance of the U.S.-Japan security treaty and of Japan's territorial and sovereign rights. Ha-shimoto's platform calls for closer diplomatic and defense relations with South Korea and Australia, and is reminiscent of moves by the U.S. over the past few years to strengthen security ties with those countries.

Hashimoto's popularity and his party's emergence have created an upheaval in the political scene. With talk of a Lower House election in November growing, it appears that Japan Restoration Party candidates would likely capture around 50 seats in the Kansai region alone.

Media pundits and some members of Osaka Ishin no Kai say they might win up to 130 direct and proportional representation seats nationwide.

At the moment, it looks like the party is set to field anywhere from 300 to 350 candidates.

With the realization in Tokyo that the Japan Restoration Party could well be a member of the ruling coalition after the election, the established parties are likely to see defections climb sharply in the coming weeks.

But Osaka Ishin no Kai's leaders are hoping to reach a coalition agreement with politicians who share their goals, especially those in the LDP who support former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a nationalist who has close ties with Hashimoto and Matsui.

But while making national plans, Hashimoto and Matsui will have to deal with growing concern among Osaka Ishin no Kai members in the city and prefectural assemblies that Hashimoto and Matsui are overextending themselves.



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