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Abe huddle with Nippon Ishin duo just on economy?

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Friday with Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto in what the latter two said was purely a discussion of the supplementary budget, economic issues, structural reforms, and the goal to make Tokyo and Osaka the twin engines of Japan’s growth.

But because Hashimoto is the No. 2 head of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Matsui the No. 3, with ex-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara at the helm, speculation is swirling that Abe may be seeking to get Nippon Ishin to join forces with his Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc before or after the July Upper House election. Thus Friday’s meeting offered both sides a chance to build political capital with each other.

Abe is particularly close to Matsui, who suggested last year that he join Nippon Ishin and serve as its head. Abe refused, but the three remain close and share common views on the need to amend the Constitution, particularly the war-renouncing Article 9, to reform the educational system to instill in students a greater sense of patriotism and to place more focus on vocational education needs.

Abe said Friday morning his aim was to listen to Matsui and Hashimoto in their respective roles as governor and mayor. But he also planned to seek their cooperation in helping the divided Diet pass the supplementary budget.

“Along with Tokyo, Osaka and Kansai are extremely important for Japan’s economy. It’s natural to meet the Osaka governor and mayor to hear their proposals. At the same time, I’m meeting two of the leaders of Nippon Ishin no Kai, and want to indicate to them that passage of the supplementary budget is extremely important” for the development of regional economies, Abe told reporters in Tokyo just before departing for Osaka.

“As to the Upper House election, it’s natural that each political party, when asking how to expand their political power, formulates a strategy,” he added.

Following the meeting, Hashimoto and Matsui said their conversation with Abe had been limited to only a few economic-related topics.

“We called on Abe to enact structural reform and told him economic policies are not just about building roads and ports, but also about facilities for an educational environment. This is also a form of public works,” Hashimoto said.

In addition, Hashimoto and Matsui are strong supporters of revising laws to allow casino resorts, and both strongly urged Abe to make efforts to achieve this goal, which they said will boost local employment and the service industries.

However, Matsui said their roughly 20-minute conversation with Abe did not include talks about political parties or the Upper House election.