Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto resigned Tuesday as co-leader of Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) to focus on local elections in the spring, a move likely to further weaken the party’s clout at the national level.
His co-leader, Kenji Eda, a Lower House lawmaker, became the sole president, party officials said after a general meeting of Ishin no To’s Diet members.
Also Tuesday, Yorihisa Matsuno, who heads the party’s group of lawmakers, succeeded Ichiro Matsui as secretary-general. Matsui is a longtime ally of Hashimoto.
Matsuno told a news conference in Tokyo that the party’s members asked Hashimoto and Matsui to return to their posts after the local elections. He did not disclose their response.
“We won’t reveal details of the conversation. But we’re convinced the two will return,” he said.
“Mr. Hashimoto and I share the same passion and, whenever we are needed, we want to join the fight for this country, beyond local elections,” Matsui told reporters after the meeting.
As Osaka’s mayor, Hashimoto has been pushing to merge the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments to cut administrative costs and promote the development of urban infrastructure across the region they administer.
But other parties in local assemblies are blocking the plan, which is why he now needs to win more seats in local elections in April.
Hashimoto has appeared recently to be losing his passion for national politics. Earlier this year, internal strife resulted in Nippon Ishin no Kai splitting into Ishin no To and Jisedai no To (Party of Future Generations).
Sources said Hashimoto and Matsui met Eda and Matsuno in the city of Osaka on Dec. 17 and said they wanted to resign. Eda and Matsuno accepted, on the assumption that the pair would return after the local elections, the sources added.
Jisedai no To suffered a crushing defeat in the Dec. 14 Lower House election, when only two of its 48 candidates won seats in the 475-seat chamber.
Meanwhile, Ishin no To fielded 84 candidates and won 42 seats, down one from its pre-election strength.
“Neither I nor the party gained the confidence (of voters),” Hashimoto told a Dec. 14 news conference following the snap election.
It is not the first time the pair have expressed their intention to withdraw from national politics.
In July 2013, Hashimoto and Matsui told party executives that they wanted to step down from heading Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), the predecessor of Ishin no To, but were persuaded by members to stay on.
Nippon Ishin no Kai, founded by Hashimoto in September 2012, was once considered a hopeful “third force” in politics and won 54 seats in the Lower House election in December 2012.
But the popularity of both the party and Hashimoto himself declined over the year, and its split further reduced his clout in national politics.
During Tuesday’s assembly, participants also reviewed the results of December’s snap election.
Information from Kyodo added