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Friday, Oct. 26, 2012

Ishihara to resign, form new political party

Outspoken nationalist says he wants to take his case countrywide

Staff writer

In a surprise move, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced Thursday he will resign and return to the national arena by launching a new political party that can battle the Democratic Party of Japan and Liberal Democratic Party in the next Lower House election.

News photo
Shintaro Ishihara

Later in the day, Ishihara submitted his letter of resignation to the chairman of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, in effect giving 30 days' notice. However, he can leave office earlier if the assembly gives its approval. The election to replace him will be held no more than 55 days from Thursday.

The 80-year-old former author said he would launch the party with Diet members later in the evening, and he plans to run in the next Lower House election on the proportional representation segment of the ballot.

Ishihara said he will be the leader of the new party, which is expected to include members of Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan). He said at least five Diet members, the minimum required to be recognized as a national political party under election laws, will join up with him.

How much influence the party will have on the national level remains to be seen.

Ishihara was once regarded as a key player in a possible realignment of existing political parties, but public attention shifted to Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who has gained popularity among voters frustrated with the DPJ and LDP.

Ishihara said he wants to cooperate with Nippon Ishin no Kai but didn't elaborate.

If Ishihara, who has previously held ministerial posts, stages a comeback to the national arena, he could have enough clout to trigger a political realignment, along with Hashimoto, who came to fame as a TV celebrity.

"I will have to have many discussions" with Ishihara, Hashimoto said Thursday in Osaka, indicating his eagerness to work with the outspoken nationalist.

During his resignation announcement, Ishihara said, "I want to change the bureaucracy system that has been continued since the Meiji Era . . . I want to serve (the country) as my last job."

He didn't discuss what policies his new party will advocate.

He did, however, repeat his usual call to revise the Constitution, saying it was created by the U.S. during the Occupation after World War II. "There is no other country in the world where such (a charter) established by occupation forces remains after a country becomes independent," Ishihara said.

He also advocated building a fishing harbor in the Senkaku Islands, the islets in the East China Sea claimed by China and Taiwan.

Ishihara's attempt to buy three of the five uninhabited islets prompted the central government to purchase them in September, touching off Japan's current diplomatic crisis with China.

Ishihara, quitting in the midst of his fourth term, said he wants Vice Gov. Naoki Inose to take his place, praising him as the best vice governor he has ever worked with.

"It's not like I'm tossing out (the governor's job). . . . What I plan to do will benefit Tokyo residents," Ishihara said. "What I plan to do is an extension of what I've been doing as governor for the past 14 years."

As for candidates for his new party, Ishihara said 30 to 40 students of Tachiagare Nippon's political leadership institute would be strong contenders in the next Lower House election.

Ishihara entered politics in 1968 at age 35, winning a seat in the Upper House on the back of 3 million votes from the national constituency.

He switched his turf to the Lower House in 1972 and later served as chief of the old Environment Agency and as transport minister under the LDP, having been elected to the chamber eight times. He resigned from the Diet in 1995.

Ishihara's oldest son is former LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara, who was defeated by ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the party's presidential election late last month.

Information from Kyodo added

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