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Nippon Ishin falls short, readies for next race

Disappointing results don't dampen hope for summer Upper House poll

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) picked up only 54 seats in the Lower House election, a far cry from the hundreds of seats party leaders had hoped for.

But party leaders were already looking ahead to the next Upper House election, and indicated a willingness to work with the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito coalition on areas of common interest.

The Osaka-based party, founded by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, dismissed criticism that last month’s tieup with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and former members of Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) was to blame for the disappointing result.

“We needed Ishihara’s strength,” Hashimoto said Sunday night in Osaka, where he and Matsui followed election results, while Ishihara waited in Tokyo.

“In Osaka and the Kinki region, we explained things, but in the rest of the country our efforts were insufficient. But when we tied up with Ishihara, we all agreed that we were a team,” Matsui told reporters Sunday evening.

Even so, Nippon Ishin is certain to become the third-biggest force in the Lower House after Sunday’s poll.

Attention is now turning to whether the party will cooperate with the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito — the presumptive new ruling bloc — on certain issues.

In addition, it’s unclear how the party will operate next year when Hashimoto and Matsui, currently the No. 2 and No. 3 men in the party, return to concentrating on their day jobs full time.

Matsui said the party would review its organizational structure and make changes.

“This was our first election, and perhaps we could have used our time more efficiently,” he said.

For his part, Hashimoto rejected postelection commentary that concluded Nippon Ishin was still primarily a local party with limited appeal.

“We’ve won seats in Hokkaido, Tokyo and the Kanto region,” he said.

Other “third-force” parties that sprang up ahead of the election to challenge the two established giants — most notably Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan), led by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, and Your Party, led by Yoshimi Watanabe — were expected to win even fewer seats.

Pre-election polls by Kyodo News indicated the fledgling parties were diluting each other’s support rather than tapping into a powerful upwelling of voter dissatisfaction with the establishment.

Support for Nippon Ishin appeared to decline after Hashimoto abandoned the goal of reducing Japan’s nuclear energy reliance to zero when he joined forces with Ishihara, a nuclear energy advocate.

The party’s election pledges included reducing Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, setting an inflation target of 2 percent, achieving nominal growth of at least 3 percent and allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Nippon Mirai, set up a week before official campaigning kicked off on Dec. 4, also failed to gain wide support despite its commitment to phasing out nuclear power within 10 years over the meltdowns in Fukushima.