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Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012
Upstart party's internal feuds scaring off voters
Nippon Ishin seen in coalition lottery
OSAKA — Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) is stumbling into Sunday's Lower House election with polls showing it will pick up just a fraction of the seats it was eyeing, as internal squabbles have sown confusion and distrust among voters.
However, with the Liberal Democratic Party predicted to win up to 300 seats and plans already afoot to again form a coalition government with New Komeito, the question now is whether Nippon Ishin or what's left of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan might join that bloc to form a two-thirds supermajority capable of overriding Upper House vetoes.
Nippon Ishin's star has fallen rapidly. Six months ago, party leaders were talking about fielding around 350 candidates and capturing a majority in the Lower House. At the time, most pundits thought Nippon Ishin would end up with somewhere in the region of 100 to 150 seats.
Going into Sunday, however, projections show it will only win between 40 and 60 seats, mostly in the Kansai region. Because many Nippon Ishin members are former LDP lawmakers, and due to the party's efforts earlier this year to join hands with LDP President Shinzo Abe, there remains some hope within Nippon Ishin for postelection cooperation with an LDP-New Komeito coalition, at least on certain issues, and the possibility of that coalition capturing about 320 seats — enough to override Upper House vetoes.
Nippon Ishin leader Shintaro Ishihara favors such cooperation as a major step toward revising the Constitution, which requires a supermajority in both houses of the Diet and a national referendum. But Nippon Ishin founder and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, as well as the party's No. 3 man, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, have declared they will not join a coalition government.
New Komeito may hold the key. The party is strong in Osaka and close to Hashimoto, who needs its support in the city assembly to pass legislation. The longtime LDP ally has taken a cautious stance on amending the Constitution but also says Nippon Ishin would not be welcome in the coalition.
For that reason, pundits predict it is more likely the LDP and New Komeito will tie up with the remnants of the DPJ if they don't have the 320 seats needed for a supermajority. However, if a supermajority appears out of reach even with the DPJ, a reluctant Nippon Ishin may find itself courted by the ruling coalition.
That would be a huge boost for a party that has struggled to show it is something other than an Osaka-based movement built around the populist Hashimoto, who is liked far more in Osaka and Kansai than elsewhere in the country.