KYOTO – Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Toru Hashimoto is looking to team up with other opposition parties after Sunday’s House of Councilors poll to counter the ruling bloc.
“Following the Upper House election, political parties will be in two camps,” Hashimoto said while stumping Friday in the city of Kyoto.
“In one will be the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party, and in the other a group (of parties) that pursues reforms and keeps its distance from any specific industry or organization,” he said.
Hashimoto is apparently hoping Nippon Ishin can ally with Your Party, a minor opposition group that shares some of the same policies, and with members of the Democratic Party of Japan, the biggest opposition force, who remain unaffiliated with labor unions.
He initially aimed to create an alliance with the LDP, as both Hashimoto and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe favor revising the Constitution.
However, there are concerns within Nippon Ishin that, if the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition wins big in Sunday’s election, as predicted by opinion polls, the party’s presence will be severely limited.
In any case, neither party in the ruling camp is willing to join hands with Hashimoto following his contentious remarks in May that justified Japan’s use of sexual enslavement and military brothels before and during the war.
Despite the opprobrium that greeted his “comfort woman” remarks, however, some analysts say the prospect is growing that Nippon Ishin will succeed in increasing its tiny three-seat presence in the Diet’s upper chamber. Party members are thus increasingly leaning toward the idea of allowing Hashimoto to remain as co-head.
By seeking to ally with other opposition groups to gather sufficient strength to vie with the LDP, Hashimoto appears to already be setting his sights on the next House of Representatives election, even though it is not due until 2016.
The DPJ and Your Party have reacted negatively to the proposal, however.
DPJ President Banri Kaieda has stressed that the party will not pursue any immediate amendments to the Constitution, while Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe flatly rejected the possibility of teaming up with Nippon Ishin, calling it even more rightist than Abe’s LDP.
Another option for Hashimoto may be Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party), whose head, Ichiro Ozawa, has said that voters seem to want to see an opposition alliance strong enough to compete with the LDP.
But the two parties are at odds over key issues. Seikatsu no To, for example, opposes Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, whereas Nippon Ishin is in favor.
Half of the 242 House of Councilors seats will be up for grabs in the triennial election, including two of Nippon Ishin’s three seats.
Party heads rack up mileage
The distance traveled by the leaders of the nation’s nine major political parties during the Upper House campaign is around 110,000 km, equivalent to circling the globe nearly three times, party documents indicated Saturday.
Since official campaigning for the House of Councilors poll began July 4, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had visited 36 of the 47 prefectures through Friday as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, racking up 19,368 km to push his rightist agenda and “Abenomics” growth policies.
Banri Kaieda, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, had covered around 16,500 km while crisscrossing 28 prefectures in a campaign focused on employment and social security issues.
And Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, had covered 13,582 km while stressing the need to unite the Diet. The opposition’s control of the upper chamber allows it to block government-sponsored legislation.
Among the other party chiefs, the Social Democratic Party’s Mizuho Fukushima had traveled 18,355 km as of Friday, followed by the Japanese Communist Party’s Kazuo Shii with 15,507 km, Your Party’s Yoshimi Watanabe with 11,195 km, and Ichiro Ozawa of Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) with 7,332 km.