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Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012

Hashimoto launches party amid workload, universal appeal doubts


Staff writer

OSAKA — Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's new national political party, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), was officially launched Wednesday with the aim of fundamentally changing the way the nation is governed.

Recruitment of candidates to run on the party's ticket in the next Lower House election will now begin, it was announced at a fundraising party Wednesday evening for Hashimoto's local political group Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka).

Hashimoto unveiled the group's logo to the more than 3,000 supporters who jammed an Osaka hotel ballroom for the occasion.

The event boasted a map of Japan that included not only the four main islands and Okinawa, but also the Japan-controlled Senkaku islets, which are also claimed by China, the Takeshima islets, which are held by South Korea, where they are called Dokdo, and the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that Japan has wanted back since Soviet forces seized them at the end of the war.

Hashimoto's party platform calls for proactive defense of Japanese sovereignty and territories. It did not specify how it would deal with territory Japan claims but no longer has control over.

Hashimoto's party will also be the first on a national level that is based in Osaka instead of Tokyo. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, the party's secretary general, said there will be a branch in Tokyo and, if there is interest, in other locations.

Candidates for the next general election will be selected from among the current seven Diet members who joined the fledgling party, the 888 students currently attending Hashimoto's political training school and others whom Hashimoto judges to have sufficient government experience.

But amid bold predications by party leaders that they will take control of the Lower House, fundamental differences between Hashimoto and the seven Diet members who officially founded the party, growing concern in Osaka that the mayor has overextended himself, and worries about the party's nationwide appeal to a broad range of voters, particularly female, put something of a damper on the occasion.

The seven Diet members who joined the new party take exception to part of its platform, released at the end of August.

However, for Hashimoto and Osaka Ishin no Kai, differences over most issues are less important than the fact all seven have shown strong support for the merger of Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka, and for the radical abolition of the current prefectural system, which dates to the late 1800s and the end of the feudal period, and for creation of an unprecedented semi-autonomous regional block system.

Hashimoto recently hinted there is room for flexibility in the platform, especially on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade initiative, which he favors but over which former Democratic Party of Japan Lower House member Yorihisa Matsuno, who is emerging as the most influential Diet member in the new party, takes exception to. Lawmakers depending on voters from the government-subsidized rural regions generally oppose the TPP, as do farmers, formerly the mainstay backers of the ex-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"The platform is not a public promise. It's a way to confront the DPJ and the LDP. It's also a good opportunity to re-examine the idea of elections based on manifestos," Hashimoto said before a discussion Sunday with the seven Diet members.

"When choosing candidates for his party, Hashimoto will prioritize their willingness to support the Osaka merger and push for decentralization via the creation of a regional system," said Yuji Yoshitomi, an Osaka-based journalist and author of books about Osaka politics. "These are the issues he and members of Osaka Ishin no Kai got elected on. But he may not be as rigid on other issues, like the TPP."

And Osaka voters have growing concerns about the new party. Local media polls Monday and Tuesday showed many did not understand why Hashimoto felt the need to create a national party now, and that he should concentrate on doing more as mayor.

Other Osaka residents worried he would be less effective as mayor while heading up the new party at the same time. And Osaka Ishin no Kai members in the city and prefectural assembles increasingly fear a voter backlash if Hashimoto can't devote his full attention to achieving the Osaka merger in the next couple of years.

There is also concern among Hashimoto's advisers over how broad, nationally, the new party's appeal will be. His biggest supporters are socially conservative urban males in their late 20s through late 40s, and media are already dubbing the party a "boy's club." Of the 105 local-level politicians in Osaka Ishin no Kai, only nine are women, and there were no female participants in Sunday's discussion.



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The Japan Times

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