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Friday, Sep. 28, 2012

Hashimoto now wary of Abe alliance

Nippon Ishin no Kai chief turns cool after wooing new LDP head


Staff writer

OSAKA — Top officials of the Osaka-based Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) were pleased but cautious over Wednesday's election of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as head of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party.

Over the past few months, Nippon Ishin no Kai leaders Toru Hashimoto and Ichiro Matsui, who also serve as Osaka mayor and governor, respectively, have grown close to Abe, who has praised Hashimoto's leadership. Talk has been growing of some sort of cooperation between Nippon Ishin no Kai and an Abe-led LDP following a Lower House election, despite emerging disagreements over key issues.

Following Abe's surprise election Wednesday afternoon, Hashimoto offered praise for Abe but said key policy differences meant that his party could not now consider tying up with the LDP during a Lower House election campaign.

"Abe is a politician you can really trust. But we have differences over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, nuclear power policy and diplomatic problems. And we're definitely not in agreement on the issue of turning the consumption tax into a local tax and abolishing the way the central government distributes local tax money. So, when elections come, we'll have to do battle with him," Hashimoto said.

Nippon Ishin no Kai Secretary General Ichiro Matsui, who first sounded out Abe this past spring about political cooperation, agreed that a formal alliance before the election was extremely difficult but left open the door for some sort of cooperation afterward.

"We can cooperate and work to realize policies. However, while there are areas we agree with such as education and civil service reform, there are also areas where we have differences. But rather than the political situation, I want things that have to be decided to be decided," Matsui said Wednesday evening.

Political analysts say that a formal tieup between Abe's LDP and Hashimoto's Nippon Ishin no Kai is looking unlikely at the moment, not only because of policy differences but because a growing number of people have doubts about Nippon Ishin no Kai's ability to be an effective political party on the national stage.

"The most likely scenario is that, rather than tie up with Nippon Ishin no Kai, the LDP, the DPJ and New Komeito will come together after the election to form a three-party coalition government. Recently, a lot of advisers to Nippon Ishin no Kai have begun to notice the various problems with it, and Hashimoto's popularity is decreasing.

"A major concern with a Lower House election is the Upper House, where the LDP still has a majority. A Lower House election where Nippon Ishin no Kai didn't win a majority of seats would still mean a twisted Diet with the LDP, so I see a double election next summer," said political commentator Harumi Arima.

Osaka-based freelance journalist Yuji Yoshitomi agrees that a formal tieup between Abe and Hashimoto is now quite difficult. But he predicts that, even though Hashimoto and Nippon Ishin no Kai may be losing ground outside of Kansai, their candidates will win enough seats to be a force in the Diet.

"The real question concerns the true influence, especially the behind-the-scenes influence, of Nippon Ishin no Kai after Diet elections are held. At the moment, I think they would win about 50 seats, mostly in the Kansai region. That's not likely to be as many as the LDP or the DPJ.

But in combination with other like-minded smaller parties, or even as a single minority bloc, they can still influence a coalition government, even unofficially," Yoshitomi said.

Meanwhile, Nippon Ishin no Kai continues with its national plans. Matsui said Thursday a committee would be formed next month to select the party's candidates for an Upper House election. It will be headed by Heizo Takenaka, who served in former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet as the minister in charge of economy issues as well as privatizing postal services.

The party hopes to field around 350 candidates, including those from among the nearly 900 students currently studying at a school Hashimoto established for aspiring politicians.



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