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Angling to revise Article 96, Abe cozies up to Ishin no Kai’s Osaka branch

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is drawing closer to the Osaka faction of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and its allies as concerns about the health of Shintaro Ishihara, 80, head of the party’s Diet faction, mount and Nippon Ishin members look to the July Upper House election.

On Saturday, Abe, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga met with Nippon Ishin Diet members Hiroshi Nakata and Hiroshi Yamada in Tokyo to discuss cooperation on revising Article 96 of the Constitution to reduce the number of Diet votes needed for constitutional revision from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority.

Abe sees this as the first step to revising Article 9, the no-war clause.

Commenting on the meeting Monday, Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin founder and coleader Toru Hashimoto told reporters he agreed with Abe that Article 9 cannot continue as it is or there will be further security problems. However, he also urged caution.

“I’m opposed to idiot politicians triggering wars,” Hashimoto said. The party’s platform calls for holding a national referendum on whether the Constitution should be revised, and Hashimoto’s statements on constitutional revision have been more measured than Diet members like Ishihara, the former Tokyo governor.

Nippon Ishin officials also said there was discussion between Abe and the others about the fiscal 2013 budget, and drawing up legislation that will pave the way for ending the prefectural government system and replacing it with a regional block system. This is a key Nippon Ishin goal and one supported by many within the ruling LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito.

Saturday’s meeting was the latest in a series of moves by Abe to forge closer relations with Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, Nippon Ishin’s secretary general, who has quietly emerged over the past year as the driving force behind the party’s rise to national power and who has long desired a tieup with Abe.

Nakata and Yamada are two of Hashimoto’s oldest political supporters, and Nakata and Hashimoto are extremely close. Their meeting with Abe comes two months after the prime minister traveled to Osaka to meet with Hashimoto and Matsui.