Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) version 2.0 kicked off Thursday evening, with leader Toru Hashimoto vowing to pursue different policies from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling coalition on energy and structural reform, and calling on like-minded members of the Democratic Party of Japan to join him.
Of Nippon Ishin’s 62 Diet members, 37 — 31 in the lower chamber and six in the upper, stuck with Hashimoto rather than join a new party being formed by Shintaro Ishihara and his 23 followers. The majority are from Osaka or the Kansai area, including 26 first-term members, while Ishihara’s allies have years, if not decades, of national political experience.
Hashimoto said that while Nippon Ishin and Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party agree on much, there were two areas where they had differences.
“Nippon Ishin’s views on energy policy and structural reform, especially in terms of empowering local governments, are different from the LDP,” Hashimoto said in a joint video conference.
Hashimoto has repeatedly said he favors getting out of nuclear power and into renewable energy as quickly as possible. He has called for structural reform in the electricity industry to give smaller utilities that make use of renewable energy more room to compete.
Abe and the LDP, however, continue to push for restarting as many of the nation’s 48 remaining commercial reactors as possible. Hashimoto was thus blocked by Ishihara and his allies, who support the continued use of nuclear power.
As for structural reform, and more specific issues like the Osaka integration plan, empowering local governments, and even ending the Meiji Era prefectural system and reorganizing Japan into quasi-autonomous regional blocs, Hashimoto noted the differences between Nippon Ishin, which is aggressively pushing for these goals, and the LDP, which is less enthusiastic about making them a top priority.
Nippon Ishin will tie up with Yui no To later this summer, giving the party another 14 members. Hashimoto also reached out to the DPJ on Thursday evening, saying he hoped DPJ members with similar basic goals would join him.
The party’s leadership structure, and Hashimoto’s role in the party, will be decided in the coming days.
Although Nippon Ishin officials insist that splitting the party was a smooth process, Hashimoto said the age of clearly defined political ideologies, when one side was conservative and the other liberal, was over.
Many in the party’s Osaka faction had long despised Ishihara, 81, and followers like Takeo Hiranuma, 74, as aging right-wing ideologues out of touch with the practical needs of younger voters and uninterested in the problems of local government. For his part, Hashimoto emphasized that the party’s way forward will be based not on ideology, but rationality.
“Today, the key to politics is not ideology but rationality. Nippon Ishin will not oppose Diet legislation just to oppose it,” he said.
However, as Hashimoto’s critics in the opposition camp have pointed out, much of Nippon Ishin’s political agenda is based on fundamentalist free market and economic ideologies made popular during the 1980s under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
How many in the DPJ share those principles is uncertain, and Hashimoto would make no predictions as to how many DPJ members Nippon Ishin might ultimately end up with.