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Defiant Nippon Ishin pauses on resignations

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

After an election that saw only eight of its 44 candidates win seats in Sunday’s Upper House election, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) leaders were stressing the need for a unified opposition against the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition.

With talk of either Nippon Ishin founder and co-leader Toru Hashimoto or co-leader Shintaro Ishihara stepping down to take responsibility for the party’s drubbing, all eyes are now on what Nippon Ishin’s executive committee will decide when it meets Saturday to determine the fates of the two and the current leadership structure.

Nippon Ishin scored its biggest victory of the night in its Kansai base. Senior party member and Osaka Prefectural Assembly member Toru Azuma, 46, won an Osaka district seat with over 1 million votes.

In Hyogo Prefecture, 39-year-old Takayuki Shimizu, a former TV Asahi announcer, won a seat, finishing second behind an LDP candidate. Another six candidates won proportional representation seats.

But Sunday night, a downbeat Hashimoto said: “This isn’t a victory. It’s not something to be proud of.”

Nippon Ishin now has only nine members in the Upper House, one short of the minimum needed to introduce bills. Party officials suggested earlier this month that winning at least 10 seats was the goal, and that any fewer than that would raise questions about who might have to resign to take the blame.

But with the victories by Azuma and Shimizu shoring up the party’s Kansai base, and anger within the powerful Osaka faction toward former Tokyo Gov. Ishihara for failing to expand the party’s popularity in Tokyo, there was a feeling Monday morning that Hashimoto should not resign.

Ishihara himself said Sunday evening it wasn’t necessary for Hashimoto to exit, and his comments were echoed Monday by other officials.

“I think it’s necessary to have a system with Ishihara and Hashimoto as co-leaders,” Yorihisa Matsuno, secretary-general of the party’s Diet group, told reporters Monday in Tokyo.

Nippon Ishin leaders, especially Hashimoto and party Secretary-General Ichiro Matsui, are busy trying to make up with former allies, including Your Party, even as Hashimoto has suggested the need to form a new party to oppose the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc, which now controls both Diet chambers.

Your Party severed an agreement to cooperate with Nippon Ishin on fielding candidates after Hashimoto’s May comments that Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system of sexual slavery had been necessary at the time.

“We need to form a new political group, perhaps with members of the Democratic Party of Japan, Your Party and Nippon Ishin,” Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka, said last week.

But that idea has been rejected by Your Party and the DPJ.

On a Monday morning TV program, Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe criticized Nippon Ishin for the comfort women controversy and said the party needs to solve its internal problems first.