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Hashimoto, Matsui offer to quit but are persuaded to stay

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Toru Hashimoto and Secretary-General Ichiro Matsui offered to step down Saturday “to focus on their political agenda in Osaka” but decided to stay after being persuaded by other party executives, people at the meeting said.

Hashimoto and Matsui offered to quit at the meeting in Tokyo, but Tokyo-based Diet members in Nippon Ishin all argued they should stay, said Matsui, who is governor of Osaka Prefecture.

Regardless, the pair are expected to have less clout on the national stage now because Matsui said they have agreed to let Nippon Ishin’s Diet ranks manage the party’s affairs in the legislature from now on.

Hashimoto did not speak with reporters after the meeting.

“There are a mountain of issues we need to address in Osaka. We told (them) we wanted to leave our posts because we are not capable of handling all of them,” Matsui said.

“The Diet members said that they will support us in handling the issues in Osaka, and that the party should stick with the current leadership. Hashimoto then said he will keep doing his best,” Matsui said.

Matsui, however, repeatedly denied their offer to resign was related to the party’s poor showing in the Upper House election last week. Nippon Ishin fielded 44 candidates but won only eight seats.

The nation’s third-largest party has been struggling to cope with the deep rift between the Hashimoto loyalists in Osaka and the Tokyo-based Diet members loyal to coleader and former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

Speculation is ripe that Hashimoto would rather split the party in two to distance himself from national politics. But he has also argued that all opposition parties should join forces to create an alternative to the powerful Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition.

Hashimoto has said that even if such a force is formed, he and Matsui, his closest aide, would not be part of its leadership.

“Diet members should take the initiative. It’s impossible for us to be part of the leadership,” Hashimoto told the media Thursday at Osaka City Hall.

Hashimoto is eager to change national politics through drastic reforms that give more power to local governments and has advocated revising the Constitution to achieve that goal. But in the aftermath of the election, Nippon Ishin was left with 53 seats in the Lower House and eight in the Upper House — a force far smaller than what he envisioned.

For lawmakers to propose a constitutional revision, a two-thirds majority vote is required in each Diet chamber. Even together with the LDP and Your Party, which are supportive of revising the Constitution, they are unlikely to have enough seats.

Until the 2012 Lower House election, Hashimoto was considered a national player and potential candidate for prime minister. However, Nippon Ishin did little to attract voters outside the Kansai region, except for Hashimoto’s flashy TV sound bites.

The party’s support rate, meanwhile, is continuing to slide, from 6.5 percent in January to 2.7 percent in July, according to NHK polls.