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Hashimoto in limbo after trouncing

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The future of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Toru Hashimoto remained unclear Sunday evening following the party’s poor performance in the Upper House election.

“This isn’t a victory. It’s not something to be proud of,” Hashimoto, also the mayor of Osaka, said during a news conference Sunday evening.

Just four of the party’s 44 candidates were assured of winning as of 10 p.m. Former top Nippon Ishin official Toru Azuma, 46, won a seat in Osaka and Takayuki Shimizu, 39, will represent Hyogo. Kyoko Nakayama, 73, was re-elected as a proportional representation candidate. Former professor wrestler and Upper House member Antonio Inoki also snagged a proportional seat.

Heading into Sunday, opinion polls and Nippon Ishin’s internal projections had indicated the party would win around 10 seats. Ranking members had meanwhile said the party should have at least 10 winners and that if it fell short, questions would have to be asked about the leadership.

At a Sunday evening press conference, Hashimoto admitted that voter trust in his party had been damaged, but he dodged all questions about whether he would resign to take responsibility for the poor showing.

“That’s something for the party’s executive committee to decide,” he said.

Nippon Ishin’s secretary-general, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, said that while Hashimoto’s abrasive comments in May that Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system of sexual slavery had been necessary at the time played a role in losing voter trust, there was more to it than just that.

“The (ruling Liberal Democratic Party) and New Komeito were incredibly strong,” he said.

While Nippon Ishin struggled to deal with the fallout from Hashimoto’s comments about the comfort women, it also faced problems with its other coleader, Shintaro Ishihara, whose health problems kept his campaign appearances limited, but whose public spats with Hashimoto further damaged the party’s popularity.

“Ishihara’s health was not good for this kind of a campaign, but he remains an important leader,” Matsui said late Sunday evening.

Hashimoto, who had expressed interest in post-election cooperation with other opposition parties, said what is important now is to keep the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc in check.

He added that he doesn’t expect the election results to affect his party’s relationship with New Komeito in the Osaka Municipal Assembly, where the two parties cooperate to form a majority and the LDP is in the opposition.