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Rift-plagued Nippon Ishin eyes 200 for poll

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Although more than 200 people nationwide have expressed interest in running as Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) candidates in the July Upper House election, internal tensions have once again raised questions about the party’s stability.

Relations remain strained within the party’s Osaka bloc, including between party leader Toru Hashimoto, who is the mayor of Osaka, and Secretary General Ichiro Matsui, the Osaka governor, and its Diet members, including recently hospitalized Shintaro Ishihara and Takeo Hiranuma.

Later this month, Nippon Ishin members will formalize plans for the upcoming poll, for which Matsui said last week the party now have over 200 possible candidates. In addition, the party will discuss running candidates in prefectures where incumbent governors have expressed doubts about, or direct opposition to, ending the prefectural system and creating a semiautonomous regional bloc system, long a key Nippon Ishin goal.

The party has indicated it will field a candidate against Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido, a critic of the regional bloc system, in this summer’s gubernatorial election there. On Saturday, Nippon Ishin Lower House party member Hiromu Nakamaru, a proportional representative from the Chugoku bloc, announced a Hiroshima branch would open later this spring and that it would likely run a candidate against Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki in the gubernatorial poll this autumn.

Yuzaki has expressed doubts about a Chugoku regional bloc. Nippon Ishin’s ultimate goal is to eliminate Japan’s more than 140-year-old prefectural system and replace the 47 prefectures with regional blocs. The party is pushing hard to integrate the city and prefecture of Osaka and create a Kansai regional bloc as the first step toward that goal.

But a spat between Hashimoto and Nippon Ishin Diet members last week over the nomination of Asian Development Bank chief Haruhiko Kuroda as Bank of Japan governor, the latest in a series of highly public disputes between the two groups, has left many wondering if the party might split up. Hashimoto opposed Kuroda’s nomination, preferring somebody from the private sector. But Nippon Ishin Diet members were in favor.

On Sunday, at a party meeting in Osaka that Matsui attended but Hashimoto skipped, it was agreed to leave the BOJ governor decision to the party’s Diet members. On Monday, Hashimoto told his Twitter followers there was nothing to worry about.

“From the beginning, I have said I’d leave the BOJ governor issue to the Diet group. I was just stating my opinion. Even if there are differing opinions, in the end, the party collects them but issues one opinion. (Media) commentators don’t understand political party governance,” Hashimoto said.