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Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012

ANALYSIS

Ishihara-Hashimoto tieup seen as difficult

Hawkish allies share nationalist bent but differ on nuclear future


By ERIC JOHNSTON and NATSUKO FUKUE
Staff writers

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's announcement Thursday that he is resigning to form a new national party marks the first step in his final major political push.

But one of Ishihara's key assumptions, that his new party will team up with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), remains problematic due to unresolved differences, especially on the future of nuclear power.

Ishihara, 80, and Hashimoto are close personally and have long hoped to form a third political force able to challenge the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party. But political experts say the influence Ishihara's envisioned party would wield in Nagata-cho could be far more limited.

"Whether Ishihara's party will be able to play a major role in national politics is not worth serious consideration," said analyst Minoru Morita, who estimates the Tokyo governor's group would win about a dozen seats at most in the next general election.

This number includes members of ultraconservative Takeo Hiranuma's Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) who are expected to join Ishihara. The minor opposition party currently has two Lower House members.

But the real question is whether Ishihara can reach an agreement with Nippon Ishin no Kai, which counts nine Diet members among its ranks, to cooperate before or after the next Lower House election.

Ishihara stopped short of saying if he envisages a formal alliance with Hashimoto's party, but said progress was being made in overcoming his differences with the Osaka mayor. "We've done a fair bit of policy alignment," Ishihara said Thursday.

Meanwhile, journalist Akihiro Otani argued Ishihara's announcement could create a political opening for Nippon Ishin no Kai's chief, saying that by resigning, "Ishihara has just made it a lot easier for Hashimoto to run in a national election."

Hashimoto, however, sounded a more cautious note over a potential tieup, noting: "Unless our policies and values match those of the Tokyo governor, voters will not be convinced. This goes to the very identity of our party."

Though Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations and constitutional revision are areas in which the two still have certain differences to resolve, their most fundamental disagreement is over the future role of nuclear power.

Still, Hashimoto's declaration that Nippon Ishin no Kai plans to eliminate all of Japan's atomic energy plants by the 2030s while continuing to back the export of nuclear technology is likely to appeal to the pronuclear Ishihara and other potential allies, including LDP President Shinzo Abe.

The fact that Hashimoto made the announcement Wednesday, just a couple days after Ishihara informed him of his plan to resign and establish a new national party, suggests a compromise on the issue may be close.

But even as the two continue to iron out their differences, Hashimoto must manage differing views within his own party.

Nippon Ishin no Kai's Diet members unveiled two new proposals Thursday on diplomacy — an area of the party's platform Hashimoto has previously indicated they should take charge of — calling for the departure of all U.S. forces in Japan by 2045 and for the government to make no compromises on the territorial disputes over the Senkaku and Takeshima islets, as well as the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Hashimoto expressed concern that these proposals, which must be ratified by the whole party, are bad policies and bad politics.

"We need to think about this carefully, having learned from the DPJ's failed promise to move the U.S. Futenma air station out of Okinawa," said Hashimoto, adding that the only option he sees to resolve Japan's sovereignty disputes is through the International Court of Justice.

The exact role another small opposition group, Your Party, will play is also somewhat unclear, although most analysts expect its leader, Yoshimi Watanabe, and Hashimoto to form a formal alliance either before or after a general election. Officials from the two parties met in Osaka on Friday evening to explore possible forms of cooperation.

Watanabe, like Hashimoto, has voiced reservations about tying with Ishihara, especially since Your Party is relatively strong in eastern Japan and plans to field candidates in Tokyo and Kanagawa in the next Lower House election.



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The Japan Times

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