Hashimoto sets sights on the Diet

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto plans to form a new political party that aims to capture 200 seats in the next Lower House election and end the prefectural government system that has existed for nearly a century and a half.

The strategy, unveiled Friday, aims to create a new nationwide party called Ishin Seiji Juku, or Political Restoration School, by March. It will seek to draw its ranks from Hashimoto’s local Osaka Ishin no kai (One Osaka), as well as from established opposition parties including New Komeito, Your Party and the Liberal Democratic Party.

It is estimated that 100 to 140 people in the Kansai region would run as Lower House candidates and probably either become members of or be supported by Ishin Seiji Juku. The other allied candidates would hail from other parts of Japan.

Members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan who support the administrative merging of the city of Osaka with the prefecture would also be welcome.

“We are going to reset Japan, and will gather party members who will remake the country. As we don’t know what our relationship will be with the established political parties, we have to prepare thoroughly,” said Hashimoto, who has been planning for a long time to create a new national party regardless of the DPJ’s stance on the Osaka merger.

The DPJ’s lack of clear support for Hashimoto’s plans provided the pretext for last week’s announcement.

The mayor was worried that without political representation in Tokyo, opposition in the Diet and the central government bureaucracy would block the merger.

On Monday, Hashimoto met with DPJ leaders to explain his plans for merging the city of Osaka and the prefecture. Seiji Osaka, leader of the DPJ delegation, told the mayor the DPJ would stick to its 2009 pledge to promote regionalization.

But he said the final decision is up to DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Seiji Maehara, who will have to consider the appropriate legislative actions needed. In addition to revising the basic local government law to allow the merger, there are numerous other laws and ordinances that would require Diet action.

Ishin Seiji Juku was inspired by the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, which serves as a training ground for people who want to go into politics. Its alumni include numerous national and local center-right politicians, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Maehara among them.

The new party’s main goal, Hashimoto said, will be to achieve the long-discussed regional block system that would end the more than 140-year-old prefectural system and reorganize the nation into eight or nine separate regions that would operate as quasi-independent states.

The idea is believed to have the support of many in the LDP as well as most of the Kansai region, but is controversial in both the central bureaucracy and among regional bureaucrats.

The party will probably oppose efforts by Noda and the DPJ to raise the consumption tax and instead call for fundamental tax reforms that give more authority to local governments to set levies.

Its position on other issues, ranging from education to foreign policy, remains unclear.