Hashimoto passes Ishin no Kai mantle to Mitsui ahead of last day in office


Staff Writer

With Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s last day in office coming on Friday, Osaka Ishin no Kai, the national political party he also provisionally led, now faces life in the post-Hashimoto era.

On Saturday, Hashimoto formally resigned as party leader, passing its management — and the hopes of the entire Ishin movement — off to Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and a small group of Osaka-based politicians who must convince voters they can turn a party with 19 Diet members into a major political force without Hashimoto at the helm.

In addition to Matsui, former internal affairs minister and veteran Upper House member Toranosuke Katayama was appointed co-leader. Other party leaders expected to be confirmed by the end of the month include Osaka-based Lower House member Nobuyuki Baba as secretary general and Osaka prefectural assemblyman Hitoshi Asada as policy chief.

Hashimoto will serve as the party’s legal policy adviser, a somewhat vaguely defined position that will afford him outside influence over its policies and direction.

“If we actually effect political change and not just talk about it, this party will be able to capture a majority of Lower House seats within five years,” Hashimoto said Saturday.

As the new leader, Matsui has already said Osaka Ishin plans to field candidates from six Kansai-area prefectures (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga and Wakayama) in next summer’s Upper House election. In January, the party will begin recruiting students for its political training school, with the aim of supporting the best students as candidates for election.

The effort to turn Osaka Ishin into a national movement, or even a regional one, is likely to prove extremely difficult given the party’s Osaka-centric nature. But Matsui, a former Liberal Democratic Party member who is becoming close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, is appealing to voters in the Osaka area who share Abe’s most desired national goal but are dissatisfied with the way the LDP is handling local issues.

“Constitutional revision is one of party’s main ideas. We can help reach the two-thirds majority needed in both Diet chambers for this to happen,” Matsui said upon assuming his post.

As to Hashimoto’s political future, he gave no indication of his future plans on Saturday. He has said he cannot become a Diet member, but has not ruled out a return to national politics in some form.