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DPJ, LDP face national-level splits

Osaka victors’ next target: Lower House

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Sunday’s overwhelming victories by Toru Hashimoto and Ichiro Matsui in the Osaka mayoral and gubernatorial elections have put Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the established parties on notice as speculation grows that Hashimoto’s local Osaka Ishin no kai group will field candidates in the next Lower House election.

In the closely watched mayoral election, Hashimoto, the former governor, won with 750,813 votes to incumbent Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu’s 522,641.

In the governor’s race, top Osaka Ishin no kai executive Matsui won with just over 2 million votes, beating his closest rival, Kaoru Kurata, by 800,000.

Osaka Ishin no kai’s victories are expected to further splinter the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party’s Osaka chapters, which backed Hiramatsu and Kurata. But the parties’ national chapters, which did not endorse either candidate, are also worried.

On Sunday night, Hashimoto warned Tokyo that it could not sit on the sidelines or attempt to delay Diet discussion of creating one political entity for Osaka. At a joint press conference with Matsui, it was clear the new mayor, not the new governor, is now in charge of Osaka’s future.

“Within four years, we want the Diet to change the law to allow the merger of Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka. We’ll cooperate with the established parties as much as possible. But, if they don’t make it happen, Osaka Ishin no kai will get involved in national policy,” he said.

“There are 70 Diet members, including direct and proportional representatives, from the Kinki region (including Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Hyogo prefectures). Unless Tokyo begins discussions by the end of the year on a merger, we’ll begin preparations (to field our own candidates in the next Lower House poll),” Hashimoto said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Monday morning the government was open to discussing the merger with Hashimoto, but that it also wanted to address the issue within a Diet committee on local government systems established in August.

“There’s no law on the books to create one Osaka entity. But the structure of Osaka is of great interest to the Japanese people, and there’s lots to discuss,” minister of internal affairs Tatsuo Kawabata said Monday morning.

How far beyond Osaka Hashimoto’s influence will continue to extend is uncertain. On the one hand, many in the Kansai region back merging the city of Osaka with the prefecture. In the next Lower House election, they would certainly elect Diet members who campaigned with Hashimoto’s support.

In addition, Hashimoto has a loose national network of influential friends, ranging from former Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru to Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, to call upon for support and fundraising. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura have also been Hashimoto’s allies since they beat established party candidates earlier this year.

Nor is Hashimoto without allies in the Diet. Your Party head Yoshimi Watanabe campaigned vigorously for Hashimoto, while Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) leader Shizuka Kamei supports Hashimoto’s efforts to turn Osaka into a backup capital in the event of a disaster in Tokyo. Both have hinted at some sort of cooperation with Osaka Ishin no kai in the next Lower House poll.

On the other hand, Hashimoto also has powerful foes. Not everybody in the Kansai political world is enamored of Hashimoto or Osaka Ishin no kai.

When he was governor, Hashimoto clashed repeatedly with Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido over closing Osaka’s Itami airport, which sits partially in Hyogo Prefecture, and with Nara Gov. Shogo Arai over his refusal to participate in the Kansai Unity Project — a group of seven prefectures that eventually aim to turn Kansai into a single political entity.

But the great unknown is how many Diet members from the DPJ or LDP he can win over, and whether they would bolt their party to join some new party with Hashimoto.

“There are a lot of people in the DPJ and LDP, as well as the central bureaucracy, who greatly dislike Hashimoto and worry he’s a fascist. But the major parties have discovered just how powerful Hashimoto is and can’t afford to ignore him,” said Yuji Yoshitomi, author of several books on the city of Osaka’s financial situation and Toru Hashimoto’s policies.

First, though, Hashimoto must realize that, as mayor, he presides over a municipal assembly in which Osaka Ishin no kai lacks a majority. It has 33 of the 86 seats, and must cooperate with either New Komeito, which has 19 seats, or the LDP, which has 17, to get anything done.

New Komeito didn’t back a candidate for either poll but generally has better ties with Hashimoto than the local LDP chapter.