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Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012

Hashimoto tour eyes broader base

Nippon Ishin no Kai chief moves to build support in western Japan as ratings in Kanto stagnate


Staff writer

OSAKA — Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) leader Toru Hashimoto began a series of appearances and rallies outside his home base of Osaka on Saturday to drum up nationwide support for his fledging party.

News photo
The march begins: Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) leader Toru Hashimoto reaches out to voters in the city of Kagoshima on Saturday, launching a tour to drum up support for his new party in the next Lower House election. KYODO

Over the next month, Hashimoto will travel through much of western Japan as part of a campaign to reverse the party's recent decline in popularity and to sound out potential candidates for the next general election.

But Hashimoto, who also serves as Osaka's mayor, will avoid Tokyo and eastern Japan — at least for now.

Nippon Ishin no Kai officials believe that in a Lower House election, the party will do far better in western Japan than in the Kanto regions, where Hashimoto is strongly disliked but where potential allies have strong support bases, including Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) head Takeo Hiranuma and Your Party chief Yoshimi Watanabe.

Kicking off his tour in Kyushu, Hashimoto visited Kagoshima Prefecture with Yorihisa Matsuno, who is from neighboring Kumamoto Prefecture and heads Nippon Ishin no Kai's parliamentary group. Crowds estimated in the hundreds gathered to hear Hashimoto call on Kagoshima, home to the key figures of the Meiji Restoration, to once again lead Japan toward change.

"The basic structure of modern Japan was created by the warriors of Kagoshima. The Meiji Restoration changed the fundamental structure of Japan. Now, we have to once again uproot the old regime," Hashimoto said.

Hashimoto and Matsuno also paid visits the same day to the cities of Kumamoto and Fukuoka, where his supporters have already formed local Ishin no Kai groups seeking formal tieups with Nippon Ishin no Kai.

Early next month, Hashimoto will speak in Kyoto, where a small Ishin no Kai group was recently established, and possibly Shiga Prefecture, as well as in and around Kansai. Mid-November will see him travel to Shikoku, where the brash leader enjoys particularly strong support in Ehime Prefecture following several endorsements by local officials.

Last week, however, Nippon Ishin no Kai officials said Hashimoto's tour over the next month would not include Kanto, where Ishihara, despite fundamental policy differences with Hashimoto, remains a close advisor to the recently formed party.

Ishihara met with Hashimoto and Hiranuma last week to discuss forming his own party and the kind of postelection cooperation that might be possible with Nippon Ishin no Kai.

"I told both men that Hashimoto should concentrate on western Japan and Ishihara on eastern Japan, and that if Ishihara forms a new party, he could cooperate with Nippon Ishin no Kai," Hiranuma said.

The idea of splitting Japan into eastern and western parts and having Nippon Ishin no Kai concentrate almost solely on western areas appeals to many in the party.

Such proponents believe it's better to be a smaller but stronger and more united regional party in the Diet that ties up with other small, like-minded regional groups than to become a large, nationwide party with different factions and weak central leadership.

However, Hashimoto appears to oppose the idea for now.

"Dividing up the country into east and west insults the voters. Ishihara has clearly said that unless the various political groups are in complete agreement on policy issues, voters will be driven away," Hashimoto said.



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The Japan Times

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