OSAKA – Over 200 members of Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), led by the party’s Osaka faction, staged a revolt Sunday night, voting to dissolve the party.
But the move that has sharply divided party members, may result in legal action against the rebels, and is not automatically guaranteed to be approved by the Ministry of International Affairs and Communications, which regulates political parties.
Total attendance at Sunday’s meeting was 233 members. Included among these were 20 Diet members, including the 12 core members from Osaka, who are loyal to party co-founder, Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto. The meeting took place one week before Hashimoto was due to launch the Osaka Ishin no To (with Osaka in hiragana), a new national political party that is expected to include the majority of those who were at Saturday’s meeting.
“Since May 19, when Ishin no To head Kenji Eda resigned as head of the party, there has been no leadership. During this period, Yorihisa Matsuno and those who positioned themselves as party heads continued to neglect the fundamental principle of no rank between Ishin Diet and local politicians, by continually engaging in activities that denied the party structure,” read a resolution to dissolve the party that was passed unanimously.
The Ishin party members also agreed to return unused political funds and to take the necessary measures to dissolve the party.
“We are returning to the original principles and spirit of Ishin,” said Lower House Ishin member Nobuyuki Baba, a close confidant of Hashimoto who was elected Sunday night as the new head of the party.
But a possible legal battle between the Osaka rebels and Matsuno and his followers is brewing. On Sunday, Matsuno said that the Osaka meeting had no authority to decide anything.
“The decision to dissolve Ishin cannot possibly be approved as this was not an official party meeting. I am still the party leader,” Matsuno said Sunday.
In a media statement Sunday evening, the party’s secretary general, Masato Imai, said Hashimoto and his followers were out of line, and that they were in violation of not only rules and regulations governing political parties but also the spirit of democracy itself.
“Activities that aim to disband a public political party through independent resolutions are a blatant challenge to Japan’s rule of law, and we’re forced to say that it’s a dangerous move that could destroy democracy,” Imai said.
In addition, it was unclear Sunday if the internal affairs ministry would approve the Osaka meeting’s decision. The ministry has indicated that if a formal request comes to dissolve the party, it will make its decision only after an examination of the legalities. Such a formal request from the rebel group may come on Monday.
For their part, senior Ishin officials in Osaka insist the party’s Sunday meeting and all of the decisions taken, including that to dissolve Ishin, were done in compliance with the law.
“The meeting followed the rules,” Osaka Gov., Ichiro Matsui, one of the party’s co-founders, said.
Sunday’s meeting was also the latest step on the road to the formation of a new national party, Osaka Ishin no To, which is expected to take place on Oct. 31. Hashimoto and Matsui hope that somewhere between 20 and 30 Diet members, including those who were present Sunday night, will join.
While Hashimoto did not put in an appearance at the meeting, during an interview with TV Tokyo Saturday morning he said his feud with Matsuno was not personal, but that he believed Ishin’s leadership had forgotten about local concerns.
He also left open the possibility of a return to politics after his term as Osaka mayor finishes in December.
“I’ll retire from politics for the moment, although I’ve been asked to serve as the legal advisor to the party,” Hashimoto said.
How many Diet members Osaka Ishin no To ends up with, however, is likely to depend partially on whether Matsuno and the remaining Ishin members actually take legal action against Hashimoto over his promise to return public funds the party received.
But the real test for the new party is on Nov. 22, when Osaka city and prefecture hold a double mayoral and gubernatorial election. A loss by Hashimoto’s local political group Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) candidates Hirofumi Yoshimura, who will stand for mayor, and Matsui, who will seek re-election as governor, to candidates backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and who have the support of the Japanese Communist Party would likely dent the new party’s ability to attract both current Diet members and candidates for next summer’s Upper House election.