Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Shintaro Ishihara said Thursday that he will soon launch a party “more conservative” than the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, allowing torn Nippon Ishin to merge, as planned, with a center-left party and perhaps trigger a sweeping realignment of the opposition.
In a Tokyo news conference, Ishihara, 81, said he and some of his followers are leaving because they disagree with the proposed merger with Yui no To, which opposes Ishihara’s call to replace the Constitution.
The former Tokyo governor said there are “huge gaps” between his views and those of Yui no To on constitutional issues and the ongoing debate on legalizing the use of collective self-defense.
“America created this Constitution as a tool to dismantle and thereby rule Japan,” the unabashed nationalist said.
Ishihara believes Japan should assert its independence from the United States by enacting a new constitution and ending the “hegemony of China.”
“We need to realize our policies even if we are seen as more conservative than the LDP in some respects,” Ishihara said.
Ishihara’s departure from Nippon Ishin will mean the creation of another minor, nationalist opposition party. But this will likely guarantee the merger with Yui no To and make it easier for some liberal opposition lawmakers to join the Nippon Ishin-Yui no To alliance, some in the Diet said.
“Many (lawmakers) are reluctant to support the idea of a (new) autonomous constitution. In that sense, I feel one obstacle has been removed” for opposition lawmakers who want to join forces, former DPJ President Seiji Maehara told reporters the same day.
Nippon Ishin’s ranking members agreed to set a deadline of June 5 for its members to choose either Ishihara’s faction or that of Ishin co-leader Toru Hashimoto, at an executive meeting. But they will remain in the same parliamentary group until the Diet closes on June 22.
Ishihara had pushed for a merged group platform to call for the creation of a new constitution, but Yui no To opposed the idea, mainly because it would make it hard for the new group to attract liberal politicians from other opposition parties, most notably the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force.
A Nippon Ishin-Yui no To merger “won’t even be a start. To reshuffle the parties, (members from) the DPJ are definitely needed,” Yui no To leader Kenji Eda said later in the day.
“I hope the DPJ will be serious” about realignment, Eda said.
However, the opposition camp’s numbers game could amount to little. The mighty ruling LDP-New Komeito camp now has an overwhelming majority in both the lower and upper houses, and media polls say that support for thefractured opposition is dwindling.
An NHK poll in May said the LDP has 41.1 percent support, compared with just 5.6 percent for the DPJ. Nippon Ishin had only 1.1 percent approval, and Yui no To a mere 0.2 percent.
Ishihara said he believes merging Nippon Ishin with Yui no To “will not trigger a big realignment among the opposition parties,” given its weak popularity with voters now.
Rather, Ishihara indicated his party might even support the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“I highly rate the Abe administration. It’s very important to ‘restore Japan’ once again,” Ishihara said, referring to LDP’s election campaign slogan. “That’s what we, as a mainstream conservative force, need to achieve.”
The split was decided on Wednesday, when Ishihara held talks in Nagoya with Hashimoto, who is also the Osaka mayor. Hashimoto and Ishihara joined forces when Hashimoto launched Nippon Ishin in the fall of 2012 to prepare for the Lower House election in December that year.
Hashimoto, who has strong support in western Japan, hoped the party would benefit from Ishihara’s popularity in eastern Japan, particularly Tokyo. But Nippon Ishin, which was often described as a “third force” rising to challenge the LDP and DPJ, failed to perform in elections as well as expected.
Hashimoto’s supporters, largely based in Osaka, and Ishihara’s, mostly in Tokyo, conflicted over such key issues as nuclear power and security. Nippon Ishin has 53 members in the Lower House and 9 in the Upper House, while Yui no To has nine in the Lower House and six in the Upper House. The Democratic Party of Japan has 56 Lower House lawmakers and 59 in the Upper House.